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A CurtainUp Review
The Thin Place

"This place where the line between this world and some other world is very thin? Like it's sort of like if you were to imagine an octopus in an aquarium pressed up against glass, ... except that there's no glass and no octopus." — Hilda
Randy Danson and Emily Cass McDonnell (photo: Joan Marcus)
Hilda has an open mind. Such an open mind, she tells us, that her mother used to warn her,"you can have such an open mind that your brain falls out." That was before Hilda's mother disappeared, and Hilda's open mind has convinced her that there's something otherworldly about her mother's vanishing.

Can Hilda convince us?

That's the conundrum at the core of The Thin Place , the new play by Lucas Hnat at Playwrights Horizons. Hilda (Emily Cass McDonnell), the narrator, develops an obsession with Linda (Randy Danson), an older British medium who claims, at first, to have communicated with the spirit of Hilda's grandmother. When Linda admits the fraudulent nature of her art — more psychologist than mind-reader — Hilda challenges that confession with a less explicable ghost story of her own.

But The Thin Place is so willowy, so wafting, and, ultimately, so wishy-washy that the play seems to float away even as you're watching it.

Is it scary? Sure, briefly. But I was creeped out by director Les Water's eerie pacing, Mark Barton's eerie lighting and Christian Frederickson's jolting sound design, not by anything in the heady writing. It's only the lack of light that will remind you that you're scared of the dark.

Hnath describes the play in press interviews as a"haunted house" and that's partially right. Like a labyrinth full of jump scares, none of the frights require a functional character or plot to spook effectively.

But when The Thin Place isn't terrifying, it's treading water. There's a baffling, extended party scene loudly populated by Linda's boorish cousin (Triney Sandoval), who's helping her to secure a green card, and her self-aggrandizing friend Sylvia (Kelly McAndrew), who pays Linda's rent — we never learn why. They talk a lot but say very little; if they seem at first to harbor mysteries of their own, their relevancies never surface.

McDonnell, still and startled in her yellow armchair, conjures an ageless vocal quality that's hard to pin down: a child channeling the spirit of her grandmother, perhaps. Hilda shares little with the audience beyond her dead grandma and missing mother and the fact that she answers phones for a store. Hnath plays coy about the nature of Hilda's relationship with Linda — are they lovers? does Hilda see the older woman as a stand-in for her mother? — but it seems like murkiness for the sake of murkiness. Hilda's such a ghostly wisp of a character that it often seems that she's the one doing the haunting. (Danson offers the most legible performance as a quack who finds herself terrified and in over her head when confronted with the possibility of real contact with some other plane, a juncture between this world and the next, the"thin place" of the play's title.)

The Thin Place aims to go deep when Hilda questions aloud the very nature of consciousness: who's to say we experience what we think we experience? Who's to say the thoughts in our heads aren't the whisperings of unseen spirits? Those are provocative musings, but The Thin Place is just too thin to flesh out any sort of answer.

Links to other Hnath plays:Red Speedo, The Christians,A Dolls House Partv2 ,Hillary and Clinton.

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The Thin Place by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Les Waters
Cast: Randy Danson, Kelly McAndrew, Emily Cass McDonnell, and Triney Sandoval
Set Designer: Mimi Lien
Costume Designer: Oana Botez
Lighting Designer: Mark Barton
Sound Designer: Christian Frederickson
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Playwrights Horizons, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street
From 11/22/19; opening 12/12/19; closing 1/5/20
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; and Sundays at 2 and 7
Reviewed by Dan Rubins at 12/8 performance

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