Reality is coming to Broadway this fall in unexpected ways.
Tina Satter's Is This A Room and Lucas Hnath's Dana H. are highly idiosyncratic plays that nonetheless have a lot of things in common. Both were produced at the 132-seat Vineyard Theatre during the abbreviated 2019–20 theater season. Both are very short, and both were hits with audiences and critics alike. Both feature extraordinary central star turns. And both works draw their texts directly from unconventional real-life sources: Is This A Room uses the verbatim transcript of an FBI interview with the memorably-named classified-info leaker Reality Winner; Dana H. is assembled from harrowing personal testimony by the playwright's own mother.
That may not seem like obvious fodder for Broadway. But come autumn, the two plays will return to the New York stage in repertory at the 950-seat Lyceum Theatre, performed on an alternating schedule. Is This A Room begins previews on September 24 and opens on October 11; Dana H. starts on October 1 and opens on October 17. Tickets to both shows, billed jointly as the Lyceum Plays, can be purchased starting August 20 via Telecharge (here for Is This A Room and here for Dana H.).
In the absorbing Is This A Room, Emily Davis plays Air Force veteran Winner, who was arrested in 2017 for leaking a report about Russian interference in the previous year’s presidential election and was released from prison only last month. "Satter’s staging presents the inquisition austerely but with a mounting sense of tragedy," we wrote when the play was at the Vineyard. "The production smartly balances vérité and stylization, offering its own interrogation of the event…Davis gives a performance of heart-wrenching rawness and lucidity."
The uncanny Dana H., directed by Les Waters, has an even stranger premise. Playwright Hnath's mother, Dana Higgenbotham, spent five months as the captive of a violent criminal in 1997; Steve Cosson, of the docutheater troupe the Civilians, interviewed her about this ordeal in 2015. Recordings of their conversation represent the effective script of the play, but in the form of their original audio: In the title role, Deirdre O’Connell lip-syncs the entire play to Dana’s actual voice. "O’Connell is simply astonishing," we wrote last year. "This is a performance of virtuoso naturalism; the technique is so perfect that it disappears…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."
It remains to be seen if these two reality-theater works will attract audiences to fill a venue much larger than their previous one, but they have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive productions, with single sets and very small casts. And the repertory structure should help: Though the schedule will vary, neither show will have to sell eight shows a week. (Presenting separate plays in repertory is unusual on Broadway but not unprecedented: There were two such arrangements in 2013, for example, when Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen starred in No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot and Mark Rylance headlined Twelfth Night and Richard III.)