Review Roundup: THE THIN PLACE at Playwrights Horizons - What Did the Critics Think?
Playwrights Horizons presents Lucas Hnath's The Thin Place, directed by Les Waters, at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 W 42nd St), running November 22, 2019, through January 5, 2020.
The production features Randy Danson (Playwrights: Arts and Leisure; Broadway: Wicked, Wonderful Town; Other Off-Broadway: Venus, Love and Information) as Linda, Kelly McAndrew (Playwrights: Men on Boats; Broadway: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Other Off-Broadway: Novenas for a Lost Hospital) as Sylvia, Emily Cass McDonnell (Off-Broadway: The Antipodes, Mercury Fur, Grasses of a Thousand Colors; Film: Ben Is Back, A Master Builder) as Hilda, and Triney Sandoval (Broadway: Marvin's Room, Macbeth, A Free Man of Color, A Man for All Seasons, Frost/Nixon) as Jerry. The creative team includes Mimi Lien (Scenic Designer), Oana Boatez (Costume Designer), Mark Barton (Lighting Designer), Christian Frederickson (Sound Designer), and Paul Mills Holmes (Production Stage Manager).
The Thin Place is the story of two women, Hilda and Linda. Linda communicates, professionally, with the dead, who are still here, just in a different part of here, in The Thin Place. She can make those who believe hear them, offering them peace and closure and meaning. Originally from rural England, she's reestablished herself in the U.S.-birthplace of spiritualism-where she has continued to build a career out of her gift. Hilda, a keen listener and observer who's grappling with loss, takes a great interest in Linda's abilities. She befriends the veteran medium, seeking answers that lie across the fragile boundary between our world and the other one.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Jesse Green, The New York Times: 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.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Although Sandoval and McAndrew make scant impressions in their admittedly underwritten roles, the lead performances are not to be faulted. McDonnell is excellent as the troubled Hilda, delivering a subtly off-kilter performance that succeeds in keeping us on edge, and Danson provides an entertaining turn as the amusingly down-to-earth Linda. But their efforts are not enough to lift the play above the level of minor curiosity, especially coming from a playwright whose work always proves intriguing.
Helen Shaw, Vulture: If Hnath-writer of A Doll's House Part 2, The Christians, and Hillary and Clinton-is consistent about anything, it's that in his plays, sureness is slippery. His characters tend to be caught in moments between certainties, and their doubt, even well-founded doubt, is usually destructive. Only fools are confident, and Hnath doesn't write about fools. He writes about people who deeply and conscientiously question their beliefs-we should all try to, right?-but who accidentally rip up something valuable (a marriage, a church, a campaign) as they do so.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: The opening moments of "The Thin Place," with the lights up and McDonnell's Hilda on stage to deliver a long monologue about her less-than-exciting life, is a study in how to make a theatergoer start checking his or her watch in under 10 minutes. That alienation technique is purely intentional. Once Linda arrives to sit alongside Hilda, Hnath's language creates real suspense, and is soon saturated with unexpected turns of phrase that compel us to pay attention. It helps, too, that Linda is a medium and her séance is worth attending.
David Cote, Observer: This is the sort of elusive, atmospheric piece I would urge you simply to see, unburdened by excessive description or analysis. It's a twisty tale that throws you off the scent and doubles back behind you; one wonders if Hnath wrote it like a person exploring a strange house for the first time. Staged by the nonpareil Les Waters (frequent collaborator with another ace spectralist, Anne Washburn), the Playwrights Horizons production begins in spartan simplicity: two easy chairs facing out, a small table, and that's it.
Tulis McCall, New York Theatre Guide: 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.
Steven Suskin, New York Stage Review: Perhaps there is more to The Thin Place than meets the eye, or at least this eye. I'll give the playwright the benefit of the doubt; if his artistic imagination impelled him to this Thin Place, so be it. One can only look forward to where his flights of dramatic fancy send him next. Which, it so happens, is Dana H., a one-woman play about Hnath's evangelist mother, which begins in February at the Vineyard. And which we shall look eagerly forward to.
Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: And yet while a theatergoer respects what Hnath and Waters are doing, one doesn't always enjoy it. Stretches of the play drag, and Waters' decision to keep the house lights up-which serves both, I think, to bring the audience into the playing space, to make us part of the seance, and also to deliver a fun coup de theatre near the end-makes for a viewing experience that is simply physically uncomfortable. Ultimately, you're not entirely sure if the point of the evening is existential debate or metatheatrical whimsy. There are spots, of course, where it's easy to pass from one of those worlds to the other. But The Thin Place doesn't quite land in one.