‘The Thin Place’: Theater Review

The writer of 'A Doll’s House, Part 2' tells a ghost story wrapped in an existential enigma.

Randy Danson, Kelly McAndrew, Emily Cass McDonnell, Triney Sandoval.

1 hour 30 minutes

I can’t resist: “The Thin Place” is a thin play. But before it drifts away into the eternal empyrean, this slender drama by Lucas Hnath (“A Doll’s House, Part 2,” “Hillary and Clinton”) tells a beguiling ghost story. Well, not exactly a ghost story, but the story of a beguiling haunting that may or may not exist entirely in the imagination of the storyteller. If only he’d finished it.

In director Les Waters’ tightly wrapped production at Playwrights Horizons, suspense is all that really matters. The all-important storyteller is introduced when Mark Barton’s gothic lights come up on an introspective woman named Hilda. As played with a lovely ethereal quality by Emily Cass McDonnell, Hilda sets the otherworldly tone of the play. Settling herself on Mimi Lien’s remorselessly empty set, she takes a seat in one of two wingback chairs, flanking a table barely large enough to hold a teacup. Without much ado, she begins an intimate chat about herself. McDonnell has a beautiful voice, soft and mellow, so soothing it feels downright hypnotic.

We learn that Hilda dearly loved her grandmother, who had coached her in a mind-melding exercise so that they might continue to communicate after her death. “She’d be able to send words to me from beyond the grave,” says Hilda, who has been considering the means of establishing such a connection. Would she hear her grandmother’s voice in her head? Would she pick up the phone and find her grandmother on the line?

Popular on Variety

Enter Linda. As played by the dependably endearing Randy Danson, Linda seems as down-to-earth as Hilda appears wraithlike. So it seems funny when the plainspoken Linda reveals herself to be a psychic, “a real professional psychic” who can communicate with the dearly departed. “Now let’s get one thing straight,” she says briskly. “When you die, you merely pass on to something else.”

Entranced, Hilda wonders if there is some other place outside this world where the living and the dead can reconnect, or at least communicate. Can Linda reach this other place, “this place where the line between this world and some other world is very thin”?

You bet she can, and it’s a hoot to hear Danson’s big-hearted but uncouth delivery (rendered, for some reason, in low-class British vernacular) during a solemn séance. Linda is even funnier when she launches into her own life story. Hilda is transfixed and so are we. Even when Linda deliberately breaks the mood — “You do realize, don’t you, that what I do is sort of a trick, right?” — Hilda stubbornly clings to her faith in Linda’s psychic powers.

The problem is, nothing comes from this connection between Hilda and Linda, not even when other (superfluous) characters make an appearance to (unsuccessfully) liven things up. Even a jolly party to celebrate Linda’s brand-new American citizenship feels like nothing more than a device for treading narrative water.

Hnath has written two interesting characters with colorful backstories, and it’s a pleasure to hear his smart thoughts articulated in supple language. But he has cavalierly dispensed with all the usual theatrical conventions, like a cohesive dramatic structure or even a conventional narrative arc.  And nothing is more infuriating than when one of his characters can’t even remember the end of a gripping ghost story.

'The Thin Place': Theater Review

Playwrights Horizons; 128 seats; $99 top. Opened, reviewed Dec. 12, 2019. Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A Playwrights Horizons presents a production of a play in one act by Lucas Hnath, originally commissioned and produced by the Actors Theater of Louisville.

Creative: Directed by Les Waters. Sets, Mimi Lien; costumes, Oana Botez; lighting, Mark Barton; sound, Christian Frederickson; production stage manager, Paul Mills Holmes.

Cast: Randy Danson, Kelly McAndrew, Emily Cass McDonnell, Triney Sandoval.

More Legit

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton review

    'My Name is Lucy Barton': Theater Review

    Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in “My Name is Lucy Barton.” The feeling is obviously mutual, [...]

  • 'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to

    'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to Air Weekly, Syndicate Nationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal” will become nationally syndicated, marking a first for a program about the Great White Way. Beginning in fall 2020, the monthly show will increase frequency to air weekly. The show is hosted and executive-produced by 12-time Emmy Award winner Tamsen Fadal, a news anchor at WPIX, the channel that initially [...]

  • Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy

    Listen: What Laura Linney Learns From Bad Shows

    For Laura Linney, every stage experience is a learning experience. “Even the bad ones!” she cheerfully declared on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Even the ones that are really bad, and I’ve been really bad in some things,” continued the Emmy winner, currently back on Broadway [...]

  • 'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With

    'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Zawe Ashton has signed with CAA, Variety has learned. Most recently seen on Broadway in the hit revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betryal,” Ashton is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. In addition to being an in-demand actress, Ashton is a director, playwright and author. While earning critical raves for “Betrayal,” Ashton made her debut as a [...]

  • Michael Feinstein Kristin Chenoweth Sutton Foster

    Jerry Herman Memorial Set for Feb. 3 at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

    A memorial service for Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Michael Feinstein is producing the tribute, which will feature performances from a number of notable legit stars, including Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. Angela [...]

  • Fran Drescher 'Good Fortune' film premiere,

    Fran Drescher's 'The Nanny' Getting Broadway Musical Makeover

    Fran Drescher’s legendary character Fran Fine – known for her nasally voice and gravity-defying hair-dos in the ’90s sitcom “The Nanny” – is coming to Broadway. Drescher and Peter Marc Jacobson, who created the original series, will write the book for “The Nanny: A New Musical,” which is in development. The series followed Drescher as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content