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Review Roundup: Lucas Hnath's DANA H. at Vineyard Theatre - Critics Weigh In

Dana H

Vineyard Theatre presents Dana H., by Lucas Hnath, adapted from interviews with Dana Higginbotham conducted by Steve Cosson, and directed by Les Waters, began previews on February 11 with Deirdre O'Connell reprising the title role for the New York premiere direct from engagements at Center Theatre Group and The Goodman Theatre.

In Dana H., Dana was a chaplain of a psych ward where she met a charismatic patient, an ex-convict searching for redemption. A harrowing true story, Dana was held captive with her life in this man's hands - trapped in a series of Florida motels, disoriented and terrified - for five months.

The design team includes scenic design by Andrew Boyce, costume design by Janice Pytel, lighting and supertitle design by Paul Toben, sound design by Mikhail Fiksel and Steve Cuiffo serves as illusion and lip sync consultant.

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Ben Brantley, The New York Times: First impressions might suggest otherwise. But Lucas Hnath's "Dana H.," a one-woman drama that explodes expectations at every turn, is one of the richest, most complete works of theater to come along in many seasons. And by its end, you realize that its singular power could be achieved only in real time, on a stage, with a live audience as its witness.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Deirdre O'Connell is far more proficient at the task of lip syncing to the taped voice of Dana Higginbotham, the mother of playwright Lucas Hnath ("A Doll's House, Part 2"). There's not a word, not even a giggle or a sigh, that's out of place in her astounding performance of Hnath's new play, "Dana H.," which opened Tuesday at the Vineyard following productions in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: O'Connell is simply astonishing. Long-form lip-sync is not new-one thinks of Bradford Louryk's Christine Jorgensen Reveals, Lypsinka's The Passion of the Crawford, much of the Wooster Group's oeuvre-but I don't think I've ever seen it done quite so unshowily. This is a performance of virtuoso naturalism; the technique is so perfect that it disappears. At many points in the show, I would have believed O'Connell was talking into a body mic, even though Mikhail Fiksel's sound design makes it clear that we're listening to an edited recording. (The actor and magician Steve Cuiffo is credited as her lip-sync consultant.) The effect of this device is complex: The use of Dana's voice gives her testimony a gripping sense of reality, even as its ventriloquism through O'Connell's body suggests an eerie sense of dissociation.

Brian Scott Lipman, Theater News Online: But just because Hnath insists that this is the play's set-up, is it true? If so (and Dana's voice sounds remarkably like O'Connell's to me), O'Connell's work deserves some sort of special award, as she flawlessly manages to not only precisely repeat Higginbotham's words but replicate every inflection, every pause, every "um and uh" that "Dana" utters, all while constantly gesturing, looking down at a manuscript, and essentially physically becoming this still-troubled woman.

Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: The best way to describe Dana H., the new play by Lucas Hnath at the Vineyard, is to call it indescribable and leave it at that. Which simply won't do; that in itself doesn't begin to suggest how the combination of play, production, and a performance by Deirdre O'Connell makes this a theatrical explosion not to be missed. Those who might become distraught watching what unfolds are excused, though, because this is a rough, difficult, physically and psychologically distressing exhibition of dramatic art.

Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: The 70-minute soundtrack cultivates a deliberate rawness as Dana's ugly experiences are patched together, along with obvious blips and background noises, with some of Cosson's questions and empathetic responses. Meanwhile, Les Waters, the director, keeps O'Connell literally a captive seated in that chair as she silently relates Dana's abduction along with the soundtrack.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: And so this astonishing exercise begins. It is not lip-syncing, because that implies a very basic act of impersonation or mimicry. For one, O'Connell masters every rustle, movement of the body, caught breath, laugh, rise of emotion. Every sound that is on tape, every pause, everything, is replicated by her. But she also inhabits the character of Higginbotham sweepingly too, just sitting there, facing us. The play begins and ends with a meditation on death. Higginbotham, in her regular life, is a hospital chaplain who helps people and their loved ones prepare for death, this after her own life was taken away from her by her assailant and abuser. The threat of death, and extreme violence, is what he uses to prevent her from escaping.

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