"DANA H" a world premiere at The Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City is unique.
In a discussion with the Center Theatre Group's Jason Martin, director Les Waters and playwright Lucas Hnath discuss the idea of a 'mind meld' when the two men are working on a play. Synergy in this unusual show pays off.
The mystery of Dana Higginbotham, Hnath's mother, turns on her being kidnapped by a client whom she had come to know when working with criminal patients in Florida. Taken from hours of interviews conducted by Steve Cosson, Hnath has assembled his mother's harrowing story into a tight and heartfelt rendering, evoking gasps and laughter from the audience. Cosson sat for hours with Hnath's mother allowing her to tell of five months as a literal captive more or less on the run in Florida more than twenty years ago. The many hours of recorded dialogue were edited by Hnath to become a full length one act that actor Dierdre O'Connell, presents by lip syncing Dana's actual voice telling the fantastic story of her abduction.
As Dana's story develops, we learn that while working as a counselor, she and her husband opt for divorce. Somehow this leads to the loss of Dana's position in the facility where she had been working with patients.
Hnath mentions in the interview that he likes the idea of the audience coming into his 'black box recording' as the story unfolds 'on its own terms.' This is artistically accomplished by O'Connell with prerecorded audio.. literally in Dana's own words.
The stage is set as a typical inexpensive motel room somewhere in Florida. Andrew Boyce's design is functional: even sterile. A brief interlude with the room being made up by an unnamed maid punctuates the arc of the play in an appropriately uncomfortable way. O'Connell becomes Dana H as she lip syncs and interprets physically her harrowing story. I like this device of having an actor interpret the dialogue of a real person. After the first few minutes of the show, O'Connell draws us to the character with deep emotional and physical involvement, punctuated by quick sound blips that seem to indicate edits made by the playwright and cues to help with pacing for the actor become a natural part of the production.
I learned a new term in the discussion after the show: "Documentary Theatre," taking real people and real events to condense them into theatrical presentations. Hnath's device of presenting his mother's interview verbatim and in her own voice adds a personal authenticity. It works.
As with "Happy Days" currently filling The Taper, opera glasses, especially to see snapshots that Dana made to record her ordeal, will be helpful.
"DANA H" by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Les Waters
The Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Through June 23, 2019
Tickets and Information: