Actress Dana Delany corresponded with a fan on Twitter. What happened next is 'Highway Patrol' at Goodman Theatre

By Chris Jones / January 26, 2024
Dana Delany, currently starring in "Highway Patrol" at the Goodman Theatre, on Jan. 24, 2024. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
Dana Delany insists she is rarely recognized today. Sitting in a corner of a bar in Chicago, she shrugs off any suggestion she is. She's been walking around frigid Chicago for weeks, she points out. She should know.

"I'm working right now at the Goodman with Dot-Marie Jones," she says (Jones played Coach Beiste on "Glee"). "She is the one who gets recognized. I just stand there in the background."

But People magazine selected Delany as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 1991. Fans of the ABC drama "China Beach," a critically acclaimed if poorly rated series that ran between 1988 and 1991, well remember her character of Colleen McMurphy, a piece of acting that scored her two Primetime Emmy Awards for lead actress in a drama series. There was "Desperate Housewives," a mystery show, also on ABC, wherein Delany played Katherine Mayfair of Wisteria Lane, the main focus of Season 4. Around 2007, "Desperate Housewives" was one of the most successful shows in the world, reaching a worldwide audience of some 120 million people. And other shows followed, including another one on ABC called "Body of Proof," wherein Delany played medical examiner Dr. Megan Hunt between 2011 and 2013.

By the second decade of the 21st century, of course, big network TV stars like Delany were expected to have presences on social media and a willingness to go to such channels and interact with fans and hype their shows. Delany took to Twitter with enthusiasm, as the ABC suits wanted: "When you're shooting a show," she said, "there is a lot of sitting around on the set, anyway. I would go on Twitter. People could ask me questions. It was kind of utopian back then. Twitter was really quite the innocent and egalitarian place."

So Delany, somewhat introverted in real life but naturally warm, interacted with fans of "Body of Proof" and all of her prior shows, including one who described himself as a teenage boy with a serious medical condition. Delany began to talk frequently with this fan, tweeting at him and, as time went on, exchanging direct messages, and even emails, the actress being increasingly drawn into his troubled life. The tweets stacked up, virtually speaking. "But I had never met this person," Delany says, a mysterious smile on her lips.

The situation was not all it seemed.

And that's about all Delany will say about the plot of "Highway Patrol," set for its world premiere next Tuesday at the Goodman, beyond noting that it is based on something that really happened to her. With the tweets as proof.

"I originally started telling this story to tell the story," she said. "I'm Irish. I like to tell stories. And after that, I thought this might be a one-woman show."

But the piece has morphed into something more structurally complex than that. Delany has co-authored the piece with the playwright Jen Silverman ("The Roommate"), whose official credit reads "Playwright and Text Curator," the texts being the records of Delany's actual social-media activity. There are other actors in the show: Aside from Jones, the cast includes Thomas Murphy Molony as Cam and, intriguingly, the voice of the actor Peter Gallagher. Mike Donahue directs and the overall creator credit includes Donahue, Silverman, the designer Dane Laffrey and, of course, Delany herself.
Dana Delany, currently starring in "Highway Patrol" at the Goodman Theatre. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
As is traditional in these interviews, Delany insists there are "no plans whatsoever" beyond the Goodman's production but she is a bona fide name — and similarly unusual (and similarly personal) projects such as Lucas Hnath's "Dana H" have moved to Broadway. It would seem this could also become a movie or a TV show. (The Mark Gordon Company, a Hollywood production outfit, is involved already).

Once "Highway Patrol" opens, the cat will leap out of the bag and the complexities of Delany's Twitter life likely will be much discussed. She says she understands that will happen. But she's hoping audiences will not give away the mystery and, for now, she's enjoying the element of surprise.

What lessons might we all take from this, whatever this may be?

"I think it says something about our times," Delany says, "and the loneliness we all feel."

Delany says she once was described by the crime writer James Ellroy as "all outside access and inner reserve," seemingly an adroit and closely observed observation.

Or will "Highway Patrol" suggest otherwise?

Only one way for Delany's fans to find out.

Now in previews, opens Jan. 30 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St.; 312-443-3800 and