Review of The Thin Place at Playwrights Horizons

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    December 13, 2019
    Review by:

    All theatrical roads are leading to Lucas Hnath these days. As if to celebrate, Mr. Hnath would like to mess with our minds. He pretty much says so in the program, quoting his director Les Waters as having first used the phrase and defining it thusly, “It’s the place where the line between this world and some other world is very thin.” Hnath made a note of the phrase, thinking it would make a good title. He invites us to watch this play with an open mind. The Thin Place is indeed on that very fine line.

    The theatre at Playwrights Horizons has been stripped down to a nothing burger (the credit for set and lights is almost hilarious.) Two gold wing chairs plus a small table grace the stage, and soon Hilda played by Emily Cass McDonnell joins them. It is on McDonnell’s small shoulders that this play will rest, and she proves very, very capable. She also happens to be the only character who never moves, other than shifting her position in her chair – which she does to great effect.

    Hilda begins with telling us of her grandmother who believed in psychic powers and tried to pass them on to her granddaughter, wasting no time in embracing us into this story. Soon, she is joined by a real-life medium named Linda played by Randy Dawson. A Brit who has transplanted herself to the United States, she and Hilda merge into the story together. The third and fourth parts of the quartet show up to broaden the breadth but not the depth of the tale. Jerry, played by Triney Soval and Sylvia, played by Kelly McAndrew are the third and fourth legs of a small cocktail party – why they are there is never made clear.

    Hnath seems to be treading across a stream, careful to step only on the stones he has chosen. He is a pied piper and we follow willingly, even to the point of wondering what is going on and why we are sitting there. When everyone else’s tale is spun, it is Hilda who picks up the delicate threads of her own story and weaves them around and through us. Step by step, inch by inch – as the saying goes. This is where the play does indeed stretch out into a thin place – a bit too long for my taste. Ms. McDonnell, however, is a skilled and subtle magician. She swings around and brings us back to where we think we began the journey, only to reveal that we are miles from where we started.

    Hnath and Waters make a fine artistic team. With The Thin Place, they have created something like a pas de deux, matching pacing and movement from moment to moment. What they have created releases what has been set to paper and lets it fly – creating a new Thin Place where there was none before.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    "That’s one of the things I love in Hnath’s plays: how far ahead of us they stay. You can never guess, from moment to moment, how the plot will turn, even though the turns rarely seem less than inevitable once they’ve been made. In the same way Hnath has little use for introductions or exposition, he doesn’t mind changing channels abruptly. This puts the audience, if it’s willing, in a constant state of ears-up readiness. More than once I actually thought I saw a ghost. It turned out to be an odd glint in my glasses."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Leave it to Lucas Hnath to be an iconoclast even when it comes to writing a spooky ghost story. The ever-adventurous playwright has produced one of his most daring works yet with this latest effort. Unfortunately, The Thin Place, receiving its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons, reveals the playwright to be working on thin ice.
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter