Many know Emmy Award-winner Dana Delany from China Beach, Desperate Housewives and other television shows and movies. Delany wrote Highway Patrol — along with co-authors Mike Donahue, Dane Laffrey and Jen Silverman — now playing at The Goodman until February 18. The play is constructed of tweets, texts, emails and phone conversations Delany had with others who are dramatized in Highway Patrol.
Expect More Than Just a Celebrity-Centric Drama
The Chicago Tribune has said this play is “a must see for Delany fans,” and during the play, Delany is almost always on stage. This is her show, and those who’ve enjoyed her acting elsewhere will be attracted to seeing her live. But the play might be just about as compelling with a lesser-known actor at the center. That’s because the story feels “real” — there’s an authenticity because the words in the play are those of real living people. It’s a high compliment to say that even without Delany on stage, this could be a powerful play.
Expect to Remember Your Own Experience in a “New Frontier”
Delany said in an interview that “Highway Patrol is about an incident that happened in my life about 10 years ago. I was working on Body of Proof, and ABC had asked me to go on Twitter to support the show. This was the early days of Twitter. It was the new frontier. I ended up really loving it. When I was on Twitter, I met this young man who had some health issues.”
Watching the play, many in the audience will likely reflect on their own initial experience when they first logged onto an online chat room, discussion forum or other social media platform. The uncertainty, the hesitancy, but also the thrill of discovery and connection was felt by Delany and by probably every one of us as we waded, perhaps reluctantly, into the fast-moving waters of online communities.
Expect a New Kind of Script
Delany’s “archive of correspondence” forms the basis for the story in Highway Patrol. It’s an effective concept: creating a drama from hundreds of online and phone communications between Delany and others in this very personal drama.
There’s emotional intensity in this story of Delany’s interaction with Cam (Thomas Murphy Molony), her thirteen-year-old admirer, and his aunt (Dot-Marie Jones). Delany, an actress with a well-developed ability to express herself, reveals a personal story, one in which she may have taken some missteps. It proves to be very involving. We’re pulled into the story because, in part, many of us probably have wondered, at one time or another, who exactly is on the other side of many of our online communications.
Expect to Start Talking
Highway Patrol starts you thinking and talking about the possibilities and pitfalls of becoming “friends” with strangers online. Delany has supported the idea that the theater experience might be just what many of us need right now, saying, “It’s such an interesting experiment to have a communal experience in the theater, live, talking about this thing we’re all dealing with, this addiction, this lack of real communication between people. We tell stories and we go to the theater so that we won’t be lonely. I worry that that’s going away. But we still need it.”
Expect … The Unexpected
The Goodman sent me a copy of the script with the request that I not read it before going to see the play. Believe me, you don’t want to know about the twists and turns in this play before you see it. The shock when Delany understands the nature of her online experiences is shared by the audience, and that shock is what sparks the recognition that, like Delany, we may only barely understand the nature of some of our online “friends.”
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David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded LTHForum.com, the 15,000 member food chat site; for several years he wrote weekly “Food Detective” columns in the Chicago Sun-Times; he writes weekly food columns for Wednesday Journal. He has written extensively about the culinary traditions of Mexico and Southeast Asia and contributed several chapters to “Street Food Around the World.”
David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca.