Tony-nominated playwright Lucas Hnath (“A Doll’s House, Part 2”) has two shows in New York this season: a monologue based on the real-life experiences of his mother, and a ghost story. One of them gave him nightmares — but it wasn’t the ghost story.
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He explained why on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. His play about ghosts and mediums, “The Thin Place” (now running at Playwrights Horizons), is plenty spooky, but it’s the events recounted in “Dana H.,” his play that opens this spring at the Vineyard, that kept him awake at night.
Both plays, he noted, are propelled by the question of how we know what we know — and whether it’s possible to truly know anything. In “The Thin Place,” he takes that question in the direction of the uncanny, and found that when it comes to horror, less is more.
“It’s better when you show less,” he said. “It’s better when you kind of plant the thoughts in peoples minds and then walk away from it, because people will run with it if you give them the room to.”
Whereas “The Thin Place” is overtly inspired by séances, “Dana H.” is a séance of a different sort, in that it summons the spirit of Hnath’s real-life mother. But it does so via an unusual theatrical gambit: The actress in it doesn’t speak, but instead lip-syncs to recordings of Hnath’s actual mother recounting some of her own traumatic experiences.
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“Sometimes we expect a certain kind of ‘performance’ from people who have experienced trauma, and if they don’t ‘perform’ — if they don’t express themselves in a way that matches our received notion of trauma or grief — then they’re not credible,” he said. “This [play] is also my attempt to maybe make a tiny, tiny, tiny dent in helping to reprogram our sense of what that experience could look like.”
Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Hnath talked mental remapping, his teenage anxiety about commas, and his suspicions about anything that’s too much fun.
New episodes of Stagecraft are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to Stagecraft on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and anywhere that finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.