At this point it is hard to go more than a few months without a Lucas Hnath play. “The Thin Place” at Playwrights Horizons closed just a few weeks ago, and now we herald the opening of the wunderkind’s latest work, “Dana H.” Hnath is such a versatile, chameleonic playwright that it seems as if he has challenged himself to master — or at least attempt — every major style of drama. He has given us a literary sequel, a religious critique, an historical allegory, and a spiritualist psychological thriller, to name a few. Expanding this already ever-expanding playbook is his verbatim piece “Dana H.,” playing at the Vineyard Theatre, which is adapted from interview transcripts featuring none other than his own mother, Dana Higginbotham.
While the verbatim theatre trend (sometimes called documentary theatre or theatre of the Real), may seem like a theatrical vestige of former era, in the age of fake news it is making a comeback. The Vineyard Theatre’s previous production, “Is This a Room” was also in this style, and caused quite a stir due to its topical and political nature. “Dana H.,” while not having the current events vibe that documentary theatre often has, nonetheless has a rather compelling subject. In the interviews, Hnath’s mother tells the story of when she was kidnapped for several months by an escaped patient from a mental institute.
See, you can’t help but be intrigued. On the surface, this seems like the basis of an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, but despite the melodrama, it is a true story told from the victim, or more accurately, the survivor of the terrifying events. If that brief plot summary was not enough to draw you in, the actual stage business certainly will: the entire performance is projected audio from Hnath’s mother, lip synced with shocking and extraordinary precision by Deirdre O’Connell.
That’s right, you read that correctly. She has headphones in and for the entire performance perfectly lip syncs with the audio of Hnath’s mother, down to each stutter, sigh, leg slap, bracelet-filled wrist twist, cough, and vocal tick. She holds a packet of papers, but it is a prop, she does not read from a script. She has every excruciatingly paced-out second of her 75-minute monologue memorized.