The Thin Place
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Theater review by Adam Feldman
In theater, quiet can be more arresting than noise. Hilda, the central figure in Lucas Hnath’s eerie The Thin Place, sucks us in with her smallness. As played with precise oddity by Emily Cass McDonnell, she is mousy and pale; in the company of others, she almost disappears into her chair. But when she speaks to the audience directly—on a nearly bare stage, with the house lights up and a mug of tea in her hand—she has an intimate confidence. Hilda’s extended ghost story begins in her childhood, when she practiced psychic communication with her grandmother, hoping one day to be able to talk to her beyond the grave; later, she tries to do exactly that with help from Linda (the splendid Randy Danson), a flimflam spiritualist with a rough English brogue that gives her chicanery a brisk air of candor. (Linda describes Hilda to others as “a very curious person,” which cuts two different but accurate ways.)
This slender work bulges out dramatically in the middle when Hilda and Linda, who have obliquely become romantically involved, attend a party with two much louder friends of Linda’s: Jerry (Triney Sandoval), a political consultant, and Sylvia (Kelly McAndrew), Linda’s wealthy patron. As they drink, their conversation turns philosophical and at times confrontational. But although the switch in tone and volume is marked, and perfectly managed by director Les Waters and his cast, the concerns of this section are consonant with those of the rest of the piece: How and why do we choose what to believe? For most of its 90 or so minutes, Hnath’s perceptive play suggests a cross between David Mamet’s The Shawl, which also concerns a false medium, and Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, whose narrative structure it echoes. But the final part of The Thin Place—with a firm assist from Mimi Lien’s set, Mark Barton’s lighting and Christian Frederickson’s sound—plunges us into different waters. We emerge, shaken, with a heightened sense of the darkness around us and of how much of the world we fill in for ourselves.
Playwrights Horizons (Off Broadway). By Lucas Hnath. Directed by Les Waters. With Emily Cass McDonnell, Randy Danson. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.