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REVIEW: ‘The Thin Place’ Is An Experiment Between The Watcher And The Watched

thin place
Jonathan Roberts
Actors Theatre of Louisville performs THE THIN PLACE written by Lucas Hnath and directed by Les Waters during the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Robin Bartlett portrays Linda, left, and Emily Cass McDonnell portrays Hilda.

On our way out of the theater, my friend runs into some friends and we tumble into the Bluegrass Brewing Company next door and are quickly surrounded by food and drink. We’ve all just seen “The Thin Place” by playwright Lucas Hnath, commissioned by Actors Theatre for the Humana Festival, and we have a lot to say about it.

As I’m unspooling my thoughts about main character Hilda (Emily Cass McDonnell) using her new friend Linda (Robin Bartlett), a psychic, as a fill-in mommy figure after the death of her grandmother and the bizarre disappearance of her mother, the other women at the table give me a look that I regularly receive when my straightness rams directly into my naïveté.

My friend asks, “Did you see that movie ‘The Favourite?’ It’s like that.” And by that, she is referring to the sexual relationships between women of varying ages and degrees of power. You see, in addition to Hilda and Linda, there is also Linda’s friend Sylvia (Kelly McAndrew) who is older than Hilda, but younger than Linda, and we are told pays Linda’s rent.

“The Favourite” is set in 18th century England and tells the story of Queen Anne, Lady Sarah Churchill, who attends to the queen’s needs in many ways and a young servant who sees an opportunity to improve her status. And while, this is not a review of “The Favourite,” it is helpful to think of the world of “The Thin Place” in relation to this film that received high acclaim for subverting the male gaze because “The Thin Place” is also experimenting with the relationship between the watcher and the watched, the storyteller and the actors.

“The Thin Place” plays with the thinness between two worlds in multiple ways, intentionally and unintentionally. The play opens with Hilda speaking directly to the audience, even possibly interacting with us, which automatically aligns us with her POV. And this creates tension because Hilda is an unreliable narrator. The plot puts forth the idea that there are places (and people) where the barrier between our lives and the afterlife is more permeable.

And there were also moments in the play where the playwright seemed more visible than others, like when Linda’s nephew Jerry (Triney Sandoval) goes on a rant, among other things, about how donations collapse local economies in foreign countries and I can’t help but wonder if someone had recently read "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think," or when none of the other characters react to Hilda’s claim that she can hear the cries of the dying babies when she passes an abortion clinic.

Around the table at the Bluegrass Brewing Company, we all agreed that The Thin Place” was far more experimental than we had expected, but that that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And we were all certainly happy to have spent our Friday night at Actors Theatre.

When you make your plans to see “The Thin Place,” just be sure to go with a lively crew who’s up to the task of showing you what you might have missed – the fun of this play are the many ways it’s open for interpretation.

Minda Honey is on Twitter @mindahoney and Facebook at “Ask Minda Honey.”

Jonese Franklin is the WFPL Program Director and host of All Things Considered. Email Jonese at jfranklin@lpm.org.