Whether or not you recognize, or suppose you recognize, the real-life story of Dana Higginbotham, about her five-month abduction and torture, about her well-known playwright son reworking the horror into artwork and testimony, concerning the actress who offers voice to unthinkable trauma with out uttering a single phrase, Lucas Hnath’s Dana H. will throw you repeatedly in its fewer than 90 minutes.
In tandem with Tina Satter’s equally fascinating Is This A Room – they share, on alternate nights, the stage of the Lyceum Theatre – Dana H. is, as a lot as something, an instance of the bizarre and surprising area made on Broadway by a pandemic-reduced roster of productions. I can’t say for sure that these two performs, quick in size and experimental in type, discovered their place on Broadway due to a much less fierce rivalry for roofs, however I can, with out hesitation, applaud their arrival, nonetheless it got here to be.
I discussed that the actress right here – the magnificent Deirdre O’Connell -doesn’t communicate, however that’s not solely correct, however I used to be reluctant to make use of the phrase “lip-sync” too early. The artwork type’s ordinary connotation of comedy and/or deception doesn’t apply right here. Mouthing the phrases of precise interview tape recordings during which Higginbotham opens up about her ordeal, O’Connell and Dana H. convey each the specifics of 1 lady’s trauma and one thing common concerning the all-encompassing nature of abuse and its survival.
Some background: In 1997, Dana Higginbotham, a psych ward chaplain in Florida whose rough-and-tumble background helped her carve a kind of speciality area of interest among the many psychological sufferers, meth addicts and ex-convicts who required her assist, had simply divorced her husband, noticed her solely youngster Lucas off to New York University and misplaced her make use of with an evangelical Christian facility that prohibited divorce.
In quick, she was alone and remoted, an excellent goal for the person Dana H. identifies solely as Jim, a meth-addicted, prison-tattoo-covered, significantly disturbed ex-con raised from childhood within the prison underworld of White Supremacy and violence. After Dana gives him kindness and recuperation following a horrific suicide try, a raving Jim reveals up at her dwelling one late night time, beats her unconscious and abducts her, an occasion informed in painful element made all of the extra horrible with the revelation that it was merely the start of a five-month captivity and a seemingly infinite sequence of low-cost motels and prison manner stations.
Years after her kidnapping, Dana’s son Lucas Hnath, by now an acclaimed and well-known playwright whose works embrace A Doll’s House Part 2 and Hillary and Clinton, asks a third-party – a theater buddy named Steve Cosson, himself a famous Off Broadway author and director – to conduct a sequence of interviews with Dana, who feels able to lastly share her story publicly. Those are the recordings we hear in Dana H.
Directed by Les Waters with each a documentary consideration to element and an artfulness that may appear dreamlike, Dana H. performs out on a wonderfully recreated Florida motel room, designed by Andrew Boyce as a kind of cloister in pinks and pale greens that immediately says “Florida,” and extra progressively, “prison.” O’Connell, seated and going through the viewers, mouths Higgenbotham’s phrases and, quite miraculously, conveys by facial expressions and nervous gestures the frenzy and swirl of feelings that belie her tamped-down, shell-shocked verbal supply.
Here’s how Dana evenly describes an early encounter with the surface world whereas beneath Jim’s management:
“One of the very first things that ever happened was going to a pawn shop, and he wanted a shotgun. He’s got his hand on my neck the whole time, almost everywhere we were his hand was always on my neck like that. And he says straight ahead to the guy, ‘I can’t buy it…I’m a felon but uh she’s going to buy it.’ And the guy said ‘oh ok.’”
And so begins a sample that will repeat itself over the following 5 months, a cycle of abuse and management that appears to type a literal barrier between abuser, sufferer and the surface world, and that makes tales like Dana’s so tough to completely perceive. Dana is aware of full nicely, from her days in captivity to the years after escape, the questions that may hang-out her: Why didn’t you simply run away? Why didn’t you scream for assist each time you encountered a retailer clerk, or have been taken to an emergency room, or pulled over by the police?
Consider it the towering achievement of Dana H. that by the top of this play, all however the thickest of listeners will now not really feel compelled to ask these questions. For starters, Dana/Higgenbotham spells out the real-world implications of Jim’s standing within the White Supremacy group that has a deep attain into the nation’s jail system and past – a standing that she is satisfied, and argues convincingly, led to 1 cop after one other taking a hands-off method when confronted with a bruised and bloody lady.
But Dana’s phrases, and O’Connell’s efficiency that’s by turns steely and weak, goes to a deeper degree of why and the way. Her mesmerizing account of a five-month waking nightmare pulls us so deeply into the psyche of abuse that we totally comprehend the utter give up, the no-way-outness.
When escape comes, it appears probably the most unbelievable a part of the play – that’s no criticism – a dizzying now-or-never second conveyed by a heretofore absent theatrical flash, as a motel maid goes concerning the tedious enterprise of tidying the just-vacated room, sheets bloody, lights abruptly flickering and the various recordings of Dana’s voice overlapping right into a ear-splitting cacophony, an outline that wouldn’t be misplaced in a Twin Peaks episode. (Credit right here to the extraordinary sound design of Mikhail Fiksel and Paul Toben’s lighting work).
That second of surreality and confusion not solely speaks to the psychological state of the lead character, however calls for we ask some robust questions on narrator reliability and the fluidity of perspective. Does the motel maid – portrayed by the one actor apart from O’Connell to take the stage – not discover the crimson splatter on these white sheets? Is she merely inured to what have to be, in her world, a commonplace sight? Like so most of the individuals who cross paths with Dana and her tormenter, the maid in all probability notices.
Or perhaps she doesn’t. The terror is available in realizing that it makes no distinction both manner.