Plays concerning the supernatural or people attempting to communicate with the departed have been with us for a while, from Noël Coward’s comical Blithe Spirit to Prince Gomolvilas’ excellent recent The Brothers Paranormal. While not quite enough to constitute a subgenre, these shows persist, speaking to the human need for connection to people they have lost. Lucas Hnath, one of the best playwrights currently working, tries his hand in this genre with The Thin Place, but the results are uneven, satisfying neither as drama nor thriller. The Echo Theater Company’s current production features terrific performances and subtle design, but unfortunately it’s not quite enough to overcome the inherent problems with the writing.
When Hilda (Caitlin Zambito) was a young girl, her grandmother played a game with her in which she attempted to send a word psychically into Hilda’s brain. As an adult, Hilda has tried to contact the spirit of her deceased grandmother, with no success, which leads her to meeting Linda (Janet Greaves), a medium who impresses her. Hilda and Linda become friends, which leads to the two of them attending a party where Hilda meets Linda’s friends, political operative Jerry (Justin Huen) and wealthy Sylvia (Corbett Tuck). While sharing scary stories, Hilda recounts the mysterious tale of her mother recently going missing, and things begin to take a turn towards the supernatural.
Zambito brings a lot of sympathy and lightness to Hilda, a character who is somewhat thinly drawn in the writing, although this may be a deliberate decision by Hnath to create a sense of mystery about her. Huen is energetic and sharp as the manipulative Jerry, excelling particularly in a scene in which he describes how the tools of the medium trade can help aspiring politicians. Tuck is quite good as the easily intimidated Sylvia, her emotions clear to read on her face as she’s blithely hurt by a friend. Finally, Greaves is excellent as Linda, giving a rich and exuberant performance that deserves a better vehicle.
Director Abigail Deser gets strong work from her cast and manages to create some dramatic tension as the play progresses, but she is undercut by Hnath’s lack of an interesting resolution. Her scenic design, in collaboration with Amanda Knehans, is spare but effective, as is Alysha Bermudez’s spookily evocative sound design. Hnath’s play, while it does have at least one fascinating character in Linda, suffers from being too discursive and unfocused, although knowing his work, this is probably deliberate. It’s all setup and no real payoff, which is frustrating. What’s more frustrating is that this is a very good production of a flawed play.
The press release for The Thin Place describes it as “spine-tingling.” Reader, my spine was not tingled. Your mileage may vary.
The Thin Place is presented by The Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre and plays through April 24, 2023. Tickets are available here.