The Thin Place

Zambito, Greaves. Photo by OddDog Pictures.

Lucas Hnath is a playwright who resists easy categorization. His plays are so different in story, style, tone, and technique that one would assume several quite different writers authored them. THE THIN PLACE, having its California premiere at the Echo Theater Company, is no exception. 

Hilda (Caitlin Zambito) is our guide through Hnath’s exploration of grief, psychics, and the possibility of communicating with loved ones who have passed on. As a child, Hilda’s grandmother began teaching her to identify and strengthen her innate psychic powers. They did not get far before Hilda’s mother discovered this “unholy” practice and banished her mother from their home. 

The adult Hilda has continued to seek out psychics and other practitioners, which is how she meets Linda (Janet Greaves) a Yorkshire-accented medium who astounds Hilda with her gifts. Hilda befriends the older woman who enjoys spending time with such a sympathetic sounding board. She even confesses that her readings, however convincing, are based on her well-honed intuition rather than actual voices from the other side.

After an emotionally explosive gathering with Hilda’s benefactress, Sylvia (Corbett Tuck) and her American cousin, Jerry (Justin Huen), Linda will sever her relationship with Hilda. Though Hilda will force Linda into one last confrontation with that “thin place” which separates this world from the next.

As usual, the Echo’s production is terrific. Director Abigail Deser keeps a low-watt tension flowing throughout and coaxes strong performances from her cast. Deser also designs the set which, in combination with Amanda Knehans effective lighting and Alysha Grace Bermudez’s evocative sound, create an elegantly austere backdrop for the play.

The performances are all excellent with Zambito’s wide-eyed and ingratiating Hilda carefully navigating her journey from apparent normalcy to something quite different. Greaves’ Linda has a powerful magnetism that captures us as readily as it does Hilda. Outside of the readings, she has a common-sense maternal charm that we are shocked to find can change in an instant to white-hot rage. Tuck easily slips into Sylvia’s air of privilege and condescension, while Huen leans into Jerry’s surprisingly sympathetic side, though that may be an act.

The play is billed as a “spine tingling,” though I doubt anyone would consider it that. There are some eerie moments and the decision of both the playwright and the director to eschew cheap scares is laudable. But the play’s too swift and equivocal ending will leave most audiences unsatisfied despite the undeniable strength of the production.

Atwater Village Theatre    March 18 – May 1, 2023