When playwright Lucas Hnath decided to write a play about his mother, who knew that it would be about a woman who was kidnapped by a psychopathic ex-convict with significant mental health issues? And held for five months in this interminable hell? DANA H. is a true story which has been adapted by her son from interviews with her which were conducted by Steve Cosson. But even more surprising is that the audience hears that actual voice of Dana Higgenbotham throughout, a voice which has been taken from carefully edited tapes and mimed by talented actress Deirdre O’Connell. This technological marvel manages to bring the confusion, uncertainly, and terror of Dana H. to striking and vivid life.
Dana H. was a non-denominational psychiatric ward chaplain when she first met Jim, a patient and ex-convict who told her that he was searching for redemption. Dana decided to help Jim, a man seeking hope and forgiveness, and even brought him to her home, where he spent the Christmas holidays. When her estranged husband left, Dana became Jim’s captive – a captivity which was to last for five months as they traveled to a series of dingy Florida motels. With her life literally in Jim’s hands, Dana became disoriented and increasingly terrified – until she finally simply gave up. Even when freedom unexpectedly came, Dana was dazed and uncomprehending.
DANA H. does a brilliant job of telling her story – in her own words – in this boundary-shattering production. Her talented and creative son and author/adaptor of the play, Lucas Hnath has a career marked by award-winning plays including “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” “The Christians,” and “Hillary and Clinton.” In fact, two of his plays are currently running in New York. Not one to draw inside the lines, Hnath has outdone himself with this production – a ground-breaking approach to telling a story with all the nuances and glitches that happen in real life.
Kudos to director Les Waters, who helmed the production with sensitivity and subtle guidance. Deirdre O’Connell does a terrific job as the victimized Dana, a woman who – like the phoenix – seems to rise from the ashes. Andrew Boyce’s scenic design is simple so as not to distract from the emotions tearing Dana into pieces. The production team does a brilliant job of making the technical aspects of the show flow smoothly. And special kudos to Steve Cuiffo, illusion and lip sync consultant, whose gentle hand is everywhere invisible. It is almost impossible to notice that O’Connell is not speaking herself, so seamless is the transition between the words of the two women. DANA H. is highly recommended, both as an emotionally honest statement of trauma and as a creative theatrical experience.
DANA H. runs through June 23, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets ranged from $25 to $79. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.