Two years ago, I saw playwright Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 at South Coast Rep and wrote at that time that the playwright had “picked up the threads left behind by Ibsen and created an exquisitely compelling extension of Ibsen’s story.” It was an audacious enterprise, utterly fascinating and went on to earn eight Tony nominations in New York and a win for Laurie Metcalf as Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. It was Hnath’s Broadway debut. When Center Theatre Group announced that his new work, Dana H., was slated to open at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, it became a must-see for me. The playwright does not disappoint.
Dana H. is the extraordinary true story of Hnath’s mother and her fraught journey from a career as a hospice chaplain who specialized in end-of-life counseling, through five horrifying months as the captive of a deranged ex-convict, and on to a struggle for normalcy. The script is derived and adapted from interviews with Dana Higginbotham that were conducted and recorded by Steve Cosson. Deirdre O’Connell holds the stage alone on a set designed by Andrew Boyce that is a spot-on representation of a clean, inexpensive motel room. Seated in a chair facing the audience, she tells the story to the invisible interviewer who questions her, while holding and referring to the thick manuscript of her tale. The story is revealed in three parts over a seventy-five minute performance. The audience hears the actual voice of the very real Dana, flawlessly lip-synced by Ms. O’Connell in an awesome, tour de force performance. Searching through for adjectives for the experience, one inevitably comes up with hackneyed, over-used words like “riveting” or “absorbing” that are insufficient to the audience’s unique experience. The attention that the performance commands leaves the theatregoers wrung out emotionally, and gladly so, having undergone something utterly unique that clutches the heart well after departing from the auditorium.
Direction by Les Waters is flawless. The production team includes lighting and supertitle design by Paul Toben; costume design by Janice Pytel; sound design by Mikhail Fiksel; illusion & lip sync consultant, Steve Cuiffo; dramaturg, Tanya Palmer; and the production stage manager, Maggie Swing, along with stage managers Leia Crawford (L.A.) and Joshua Pilote (N.Y.).
Readers, this play is utterly unique and clutches my heart even as I write this. Hie thee hence! You will be glad you did, even if it hurts the tenderhearted.
Dana H., originally commissioned and developed by The Civilians, New York, NY and Goodman Theatre in Chicago, is a co-production of Center Theatre Group and in association with Goodman Theatre. It runs through June 23 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Boulevard in Culver City.