Triney Sandoval, Kelly McAndrew, Emily Cass McDonnell, Lucas Hnath, Les Waters, & Robin Bartlett. Photo by Marty Pearl.
The Thin Place
By Lucas Hnath
Directed by Les Waters
Review by Ben Gierhart
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Ben Gierhart. All rights reserved.
As soon as I saw Lucas Hnath’s name on the docket for this current season’s Humana Festival, I knew immediately which show I most wanted to see. The fact that there was a supernatural aspect to it was an added bonus. I’m happy to report that I don’t feel that my anticipation was wasted.
The Thin Place is light on plot. It’s more an examination of its characters and an experiment in what can be achieved in a theatre space in terms of atmosphere and visceral audience reaction. The back third of the piece is supremely unsettling, and that’s entirely a victory on behalf of both the play’s architecture and its direction.
The play begins with what starts as a sweet anecdote shared by Hilda (Emily Cass McDonnell) of her grandmother. This anecdote becomes more and more unusual as we learn that Hilda’s grandmother was essentially training Hilda to communicate with her after her death. Sparked by this childhood steeped in subtle occult, Hilda becomes interested in familiarizing herself more with the practice. This is how Hilda meets and eventually befriends Linda (Robin Bartlett), a self-professed and mildly successful medium.
After some time, Hilda innocently works her way into Linda’s circle. So much so that she becomes a fixture at parties and get-togethers that Linda’s financier and intermittent lover, Sylvia (Kelly McAndrew) and family relative Jerry (Triney Sandoval) also attend. After Jerry and Sylvia take an interest in Hilda, she shares another anecdote – this one about her mother and also much more disturbing.
Here is where the play truly begins. I say this often, but I cannot, in good conscience, reveal precisely what transpires. To do so would be missing the point of attending the play completely. It is nothing short of an experience. It is effective and just, well…creepy. Kudos to everyone in the show – actors, Director Les Waters, Lighting Designer Reza Behjat, Sound Designer Christian Frederickson, and Illusion Designer Steve Cuiffo – for pulling off this crucial piece of the play.
All the actors were on their marks, but I would like to give special attention to McDonnell and Bartlett. The playwright richly draws the characters, but the actors fill those roles with nuance and aplomb. Everything from their mannerisms to their vocal quality makes these characters come alive and serve as the foils that Hnath intended. McDonnell, in particular, delivers essential monologues in a voice that is both unassuming and captivating.
If there’s any complaint that comes to mind regarding The Thin Place, it’s that the middle third of the play seems largely unnecessary. Untethered from the rest of the play structurally and thematically, it comes across as a philosophical dalliance and a time-killer to get back to the real meat of the play. This isn’t to say it isn‘t entertaining and well performed, but I left the theater feeling as though Hnath simply wanted to write a dinner party for a bit and get some stray ideas of his out there.
Again, all of this almost forgotten by play’s end where I found myself contemplating death, the question of what becomes of us after the inevitable demise of our bodies and minds. I even thought about the current barrage of nihilism and cynicism that the modern human experiences and has to somehow navigate on a daily basis. These are important questions that will perhaps never be answered, but the best horror allows us, tricks us, into thinking about them, and forces us into at least beginning to find some answers for ourselves.
The Thin Place
March 5 – April 7, 2019
Part of the 43rd Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Ben Gierhart is a local actor, playwright, and director who has worked with several companies in town including The Bard’s Town, Pandora Productions, Savage Rose, and Centerstage. Ben serves on the board and in the acting ensemble for The Bard’s Town Theatre, and he is also a founding member of the Derby City Playwrights, a collective dedicated to creating new and exciting plays in Louisville.
2019 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Theatre Award Sponsorship provided by