Playwright Lucas Hnath is known for breaking away from the expected emotional standards of theater; his current show on Broadway, “Hillary and Clinton,” takes on the conversation between the former president and the woman campaigning to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2008 – a dramatist’s look at a unique spousal connection. His sequel to Ibsen’s classic “A Doll’s House Part 2” gives us the story after Nora’s departure, and her surprising return. Hanth is a writer who goes to a wall, and opens a door we didn’t know was there.
“Dana H.” is the true story of Hnath’s mother, a chaplain and social worker who was kidnapped and held hostage by one of her clients. The dialogue is not just the words, but the actual recorded voices of her interview with Steve Cosson (the founding director of the Civilians, a New York theater company.) Deirdre O’Connell, the remarkable actor who lip-synchs the tale, makes every phrase and pause her own; every dry cough and ironic laugh feels true and present. The electronic ‘blips’ that work as audible punctuation remind us through the performance that what we are listening to is being given to us by a machine.
The authentic truths of the story tell us how a clinically trained mind can survive and understand the inhuman behavior of a madman but also how pain and fear can cause memories to shift. This is the textbook definition of post traumatic stress; what is too awful to process or understand will wait quietly in the back of the mind for a moment to reappear. Trying to fit together the pieces of a puzzle may complete a picture too terrifying to look at, and then it retreats again, until more time has passed, or more support can be summoned.
Even more painfully, the play notes how society is not interested in intervening to help an obviously battered woman when there is a man with a ready explanation as to how he is already taking care of the problem. That he is the cause of the problem is only visible to those willing to look closer.
Her return to work as a chaplain, this time at a hospice facility, is the information that bookends the narrative. At the beginning of the play she says “I am present for death probably three or four times a week, that’s every week for the past 20 years, so do the math.” She offers her insights into the family dynamics, the grief, and the transition from life.
When you consider the cost of telling the tale, for both the survivor and the playwright, it is more than redeemed by the human triumph of telling the truth. There are doors we did not know were there.
“Dana H.” offers that one way to be able to fit the pieces of a terrifying puzzle together is to see that there is a greater, larger and much more complex puzzle surrounding it.
For tickets, go to www.centertheatregroup.org