‘DANA H.’ - Harrowing journey. Powerfully interpreted.
The almost imperceptible rustling of papers in the hands of Deirdre O’Connell marked the subtlety of a searing performance so arresting in Lucas Hnath’s “Dana H.” that those who had the privilege of attending Monday night’s world premiere at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre sat virtually motionless during the first few moments of the first of two curtain calls.
What was not readily apparent is whether the breathless response was to the impact of the drama that had just played out in an 80-minute emotional rollercoaster about the abduction of Hnath’s mother, Dana Higginbotham, by a deranged ex-convict and the five-month odyssey that followed; O’Connell’s uncanny abilities as a consummate storyteller and recreator; or, the purposeful, resolute and truly unimaginable power in the actual words of the narrator: Higginbotham’s voice in a series of recorded interviews silently interpreted by O’Connell.
I am still processing it.
For me, no piece of theatre–none–approaches the unique challenges intertwined on the Goodman stage as O’Connell, seated in a chair, face forward, her purse nearby. She is alone but for the voice whose character she must emulate right down to a momentary hesitation, a sip of water or the faint rustling of those papers in the background. As Dana’s steady voice pours out in often rapid clips from haunting audio interviews recorded by Steve Cosson, exhaustively edited by Hnath, Higginbotham’s story begins to unravel under Les Waters riveting direction in a stark coastal hotel room on a set by Andrew Boyce with lighting and supertitle design by Paul Toben. There is unquestionably masterful–repeat: masterful–sound by Mikhail Fiksel and the illusion/lip sync consulting skills of Steve Cuiffo are in the room.
There is only one other player in this drama--Molly Bunder as Maid—unless you count the acute imagery drawn by Dana of the perpetrator she met as she served as a chaplain and who now so consumes her existence that we begin to rationalize that this cannot possibly end well.
And yet, Dana completes her story where she began—essentially in the real time of the moment. Her pain, remorse and helplessness, so powerfully interpreted along the way by O’Donnell, now turn outward, shaking our sensitivities even as we ponder the harrowing journey and the enormous human capacity and strength of will to survive.
Correction: An earlier version of this review cited director Les Waters, rather than Steve Cosson, artistic director of The Civilians Theater, as the interviewer.
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