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'Dana H' by Lucas Hnath

Crows Nest Theatre presents the Goodman Theatre, Centre Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production of Lucas Hnath’s ‘Dana H.’ Now onstage at Factory Theatre

Credit: John Lauener

Dave Rabjohn

‘Chilling’ ‘Powerful’ 'Baker's work is the heart of the play'

Please be patient – this is quite a list. Crows Nest Theatre presents the Goodman Theatre, Centre Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production of Lucas Hnath’s ‘Dana H.’ As well – that is at the Factory Theatre filling in for Crowsnest. That is a lot of parts, but the sum is a bold inventive play and a unique and compelling performance by Jordan Baker.

This solo production tells the chilling real life story of Dana Higginbotham, a psychiatric ward chaplain who was abducted by an out patient and dragged for five months through seedy Florida motels and unimaginable abuse.

What is so singular about the structure and performance of this play is that the victim’s son, as the playwright, creates all the dialogue from actual interview recordings of Dana Higginbotham after her escape. Every word you hear is her actual voice – Jordan Baker says not a word but lip-syncs the entire play.


Baker’s work is the heart of this play. Memorizing lines is the backbone of work that any actor experiences. But Baker must do much more – every line must be memorized. Then the rhythm must be matched. Each intake of breath was perfectly time – every ‘huh’, every cough, every pregnant pause. An extraordinary effort.

Adding to this technical miracle, Baker takes us through the roller coasters of emotion and terror. Almost static in a centre stage chair for most of the 75 minutes, she draws us in with hand gestures and bright dramatic eyes. She rolls us through the spectrum of expressiveness and withdrawal.

Hnath’s Tony award winning play tells more than one story of horror. Higginbotham’s words describe not only her own terror, but the painful upbringing of the unstable young man. He was manipulated into some rag tag Aryan society. He didn’t know how to operate a light switch because most of his life was in prison. Maybe not entirely forgiving, she at least sets the table for his unhinged behaviour. The other shocking story is from her own loveless upbringing – cold parents virtually ignoring an unwanted daughter.

Heartbreakingly, she suggests a cold irony. Her abuse as a youth may very well have ‘trained’ her to manage the pain and terror of the abduction. Her parents did her a favour? Ouch.

Not surprisingly, one of the two Tony awards was for best sound design. Mikhail Fiksel’s work reflected the process of taping itself. The voice is slightly tangy and mechanical as it echoes out of a machine. It was a haunting gesture as the old reel to reel ran out and we hear the circular flapping of empty tape.
Andrew Boyce’s scenic design was a harsh box set representing the seedy motels on the outskirts of Orlando. Raw florescent light easily exposed the mould and grunge of the place – an awful place paralleling an awful crime.

As horrors descended further, Paul Toben’s lighting design, along with Fiskel’s sound began caterwauling into dysfunction. Another effective moment was an eerie flat white light seen momentarily as the motel door opened – her disassociation with the outside world.

As director, Les Waters should be applauded for a minimalist approach. He let Baker set the tone and pace. As mentioned, blocking and movement was minimal allowing her thoughts to surface undistracted.

A tinge of Stockholm syndrome is suggested. At times Dana feels almost as a protector of her assailant. But important, continuing issues of blaming a female victim in abuse cases becomes a central theme. The final chapter is called ‘The Bridge.’ Higginbotham finds a hospice career where she helps patients bridge between life and death. Her story also finds a bridge between horror and survival.

‘Dana H’ by Lucas Hnath
Performer: Jordan Baker
Director: Les Waters
Andrew Boyce: Scenic Design
Janice Pytel: Costume Design
Paul Toben: Lighting Design
Mikhail Fiksel: Sound Design

Production runs through: April 7, 2024.

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