Revised: Review: Dana H

by Lynn on March 21, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Jordan Baker: Photo by John Lauener

Live and in person at Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Crow’s Theatre Presents the Goodman Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production: Plays until April 14, 2024.

NOTE: This is Crow’s presentation of the Broadway production, adapted for Toronto, based on the original design, completely built and installed by Crow’s Theatre.

Written by Lucas Hnath

Adapted from interviews with Dana Higginbotham

Conducted by Steve Cosson

Directed by Les Waters

Sound by Mikhail Fiksel

Set by Andrew Boyce

Costume by Janice Pytel

Lighting and Supertitle Design by Paul Toben

Illusion designer, Steve Cuiffo

Cast: Jordan Baker


Dana H follows the true story of Dana Higginbotham, a chaplain in a psychiatric ward who was abducted by one of her patients and held captive for five months in a series of motel rooms in Florida almost 30 years ago.

Over a series of recorded interviews with Dana Higginbotham conducted by Steve Cosson (a theatre director and writer), we learn that Dana Higginbotham, at various times in her practice, gave comfort to the dying in hospice care, also tended to their families, and worked in a psychiatric ward. She met Jim (we only know him by this name) when he was released from prison and didn’t have any place to stay so Dana Higginbotham and her then husband took him into their home over that Christmas. We learn he was a member of The Aryan Brotherhood which gives us an idea about Jim. Dana knew deep down that taking him in was not a wise thing, but still she did it because Jim was in need of shelter.

It was obvious he was not stable but Higginbotham knew how to deal with fragile-minded people, until he kidnapped her. It wasn’t to get money. There was no ransom. Jim was violent towards Dana H (as she is known in the play) at times, threatening with an attempt at kindness. He told her that many people were out there watching for him, so he was protecting her. When they were in public he usually had a concealed knife to her neck.

A few times they came to the attention of the police and Jim was charming there, managing to convince them that he was protecting the fragile-minded Dana. The police and Jim joked about it. Dana felt abandoned and isolated as a result. She could not trust the police. Nor did she really try and escape. In a way her relationship with Jim was a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome where a psychological bond forms between the hostage and the kidnapper.

You get the measure of Dana’s strength and resolve when she gives some biographical information about herself. She says that her mother was hateful. Her mother told Dana that she was evil from the age of three. How does one deal with that psychological abuse?

Playwright Lucas Hnath (Red Speedo, Hilary and Clinton, A Doll’s House, Part 2) is Dana Higginbotham’s son. He took the various transcripts of the interviews with Steve Cosson, and condensed them into the text of Dana H.

Here is the fascinating theatricality of it: it is both verbatim theatre, in which the actress (I’m using this word for clarity) playing Dana H uses the exact words, including the repetitions, coughs and little sighs of the recorded interview, and she is lip-synching to the actual voice of Dana Higginbotham on the recorded interview.    

Jordan Baker is the actress in this production. The set is of every cheap motel room anywhere. There is a comfortable chair center stage. When the production is about to begin Jordan Baker enters wearing black pants, a loose top, a long, red sweater-coat unbuttoned and stylish shoes. She sits in the chair. She is accompanied by a stage hand who hands her a microphone pack and earbuds. She puts the buds in her ears and the pack under the sweater and when she is settled, he leaves. She gives a nod to the stage manager that she is ready and the recording begins.

The voice we hear of Dana Higginbotham is clear, the diction is crisp, and the delivery is measured. Jordan Baker lip-synchs with exquisite precision. This is a performance in every way except vocally. She ‘mouths’ the words with facial expressions to suggest thought, consideration, reaction, and emotion. The laughs come naturally. Occasionally we hear the delicate clink of Dana H’s bracelets. In those instances, Jordan Baker adjusts the bracelets at the precise moment of the sound of the clinking. It’s a stunning achievement. A pinging sound separates segments of the recording, perhaps to alert the actress playing Dana H.

Initially one is struck by the precision of the melding of voice and the lip-synching of the mouthing and the emoting suggesting she is actually speaking. Then after a while the artifice disappears and you believe that that is Dana H up there, actually talking.

At one point the room is empty (was Dana H moved? We can imagine). A woman from stage management in a house-keeping uniform, enters the room with sheets etc. to clean the room. She takes off the bedspread, the white top sheet and then the bottom sheet. There is a large blotch of blood on the bottom sheet. The woman from house-keeping doesn’t flinch at the sight—but the audience would—and continues as if a bloody sheet is the norm for such a motel. It’s a stunning bit of ‘direction’ not to react. In a way it further isolates Dana H so that even with bloody sheets, no one would notice and alert the police.

Les Waters has directed this, as he did the Broadway production. The meticulous care of the various reactions, physicality, facial expressions, when to cross one’s legs or not, was handled with such attention it made this performance and production breathe with pulsing life.


Crow’s Theatre Presents the Goodman Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Vineyard Theatre Production.

Plays until April 14.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

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