Although Broadway grosses have been kept under wraps post-lockdown, Is This A Room and Dana H recently reported last month that both would shudder early. “We are so proud that these two extraordinary, groundbreaking plays have had a chance to receive Broadway life and the celebration they deserve. Each of these plays expands the definition of what a Broadway play can be in thrilling and innovative ways,” said producers Dori Berinstein, Sally Horchow and Matt Ross. “While we would’ve loved to run through our original end date, we recognize that we are in a challenging landscape for live performance and we’re grateful to have had a chance to share this work. We urge audiences to not miss out on what audiences and critics have rightly called ‘unmissable’ new theatre.”
Apparently, audiences listened to their plea and started buying tickets. “We are completely overwhelmed by the response to our closing announcement,” producers said in a press release. “The shows have been playing to the packed houses they deserve and we are so happy to be able to keep this run going for another two weeks. We hope audiences will continue to come out and experience these two extraordinary plays for themselves.”
Here’s what Manhattan Digest thought.
Is This A Room
Does a transcript translate to solid drama? Tina Satter thinks so. She’s the director of Is This A Room, a 65 minute play that feels completely inscrutable. Perhaps that’s the point. After all, nerves and patience are bound to be frayed when the FBI unexpectedly shows up at the door.
That’s what happened to Reality Winner (Emily Davis) , a 25-year-old Air Force specialist and Farsi linguist. In June 2017, at her home in Augusta, Georgia, agents paid her a visit to gather information based on claims that Winner leaked proof of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.
Word for word, the exchange between Winner and the FBI is reenacted. Yet it leaves so many questions that one is constantly wondering what’s at stake here. Ultimately, Winner was sentenced for over 5 years to a Federal Prison in Fort Worth, Texas. It was the longest sentence ever given to someone for these crimes, but was shortened due to good behavior. She was released in June 2021.
Pete Simpson, Will Cobbs, and Becca Blackwell comprise the trio who interrogate her, all while Winner’s primary concern is keeping her pets safe during the event. This threesome, while true to the transcript, comes across as so foolish that one can only hope for wiser agents in our nation’s highest law enforcement agency. Perhaps this is another directorial choice. Undoubtedly, there is a message here about toxic masculinity and abuse of power but there still must be some level of decorum among bureau workers.
Davis nabbed the 2020 Obie Award for the same portrayal in the same show, a transplant from downtown’s Vineyard Theater. The award was well deserved, and she is turning out another fine performance here.
Still, the truly compelling material here is not happening on Broadway’s Lyceum stage. A quick google search is likely to send one deeper into articles and podcast that explain the gravity of the crime, to whom the documents were sent, why a young female with no criminal record was sentenced to such extreme punishment and the gender politics surrounding it.
The biggest question for would be ticket buyers is not “Is This A Room?”, but rather “Is this worth my time and money?” On both accounts, the answer is “no.”
What’s it like to survive an abduction? Dana Higginbotham can explain. Or rather, Deirdre O’Connell as Dana Higginbotham can explain.
Let me explain.
Dana H is the heart stopping, one-person drama running in repertory with Is This A Room. Both shows began their New York premieres at Off Broadway’s Vineyard Theater and each received critical praise.
Playwright Lucas Hnath, who is no stranger to spiritual and supernatural exploration asked his friend, Steve Cosson-artistic director of The Civilians Theater Company- to interview his mother, Dana Higginbotham for many sessions.
Hnath then compiled those conversations into an intense tale that is conveyed solely by O’Connell lip syncing to Higginbotham’s voice. In 90 rapt minutes, we learn that Higginbotham-a Florida based hospice chaplain-extended kindness to a mentally unwell man who abducted her and forced her into random hotel rooms through the state.
It’s not too often that sound designers are recognized in live theater but one would be remiss in not shining a spotlight on Mikhail Fiksel, who has meticulously crafted an aural feast. This is perhaps the most crucial element here.
Human understanding and compassion is fully on display and O’ Connell is giving a performance for the ages in this wholly unique piece of theater.