A harrowing emotional journey throughout the true story of US veteran Danna Davis. ‘Heroine’ raises awareness of the very real issues of both sexual assault within the military and the increased hardship on members of the LGBTQ+ community within military institutions. A one-woman show written and performed by Mary Jane Wells, the production is brutal and sometimes difficult to bear witness to. However, this brutality allows it to pack its intended punch and convey Davis’ story with depth and human touch. A simple set allows symbolic lighting design to highlight Wells’ powerful text, and the sparing, personal performance speaks for itself.
In its most emotional moments Wells reaches shocking emotional depths that stun the audience and exude authenticity. Furthermore, her performance is not without its moments of lightness and humour that offer necessary reprieve from the darkness within the piece. The audience are given a three-dimensional insight into Danna’s life; she is never defined by her personal tragedies and is funny, personable, and tenuous.
Mary portrays not only Danna herself, but also the secondary characters in the piece that are both beloved and detested. Her ability to transition rapidly between characters is both impressive and effective. The only tiny lapse in the performance comes within Davis’ vocal delivery which though described as ‘developing in pitch and accent over time’ began walking the line between caricature and character before settling into its mature identity which solidifies and authenticates her character later in the piece. In what must be an emotionally exhausting performance, Wells successfully creates a detailed narrative with minimal staging and sparing delivery.
The play’s sparing set, a black stage with several black stools allows for the lighting design to truly pack a punch. The way striking shadows and lighting from certain directions repeats itself at moments of contrasting trauma mirrors the PTSD that tortures Danna following her difficult experiences and functions as an effective symbolic device. Paired with jarring use of sound design and voice-over, the production creates a visceral, shocking experience that creates empathy within the audience.
On the play’s website, audience members are given the opportunity to send a virtual ‘brown envelope’ with a message to the real-life Danna Davis. I would encourage all individuals to have witnessed this story to visit the website and write to her. Though difficult to watch, this play is excellently rendered and is a must-see for all.