The Thin Place at Gremlin Theatre is a Slow Burn That Builds to a Riveting Conclusion
Monster Month is over, but if you’re like me, you won’t mind if it bleeds into November a little. The Thin Place is not the type of show that tries to wow you with special effects, startle you with jump scares or thankfully, gross you out with buckets of blood. Instead, it tells a very simple intimate story that sucks you in and builds to a very satisfying conclusion, something that the genre fails at more often than it succeeds. This production works because it is first and foremost a study of characters, which doesn’t work well unless you have a great cast, which thankfully Gremlin Theatre has. My big concern going into this production, would it measure up to the production I saw at Daleko Arts in 2022. Particularly could they find someone to play the lead role of Hilda as well as Kayla Dvorak Feld did. The answer is that they have, Jane Froiland may not surpass but her performance is equal to Dvorak Feld’s, which is to say it’s perfect for the character of Hilda. Froiland and the rest of the Gremlin cast perfectly build the atmosphere of uneasiness, and uncertainty of what’s going to happen, to the point where you realize you have forgotten to breathe in anticipation.
...you suddenly realize you are on the edge of your seat and have no idea when you moved there.
The play opens with Hilda speaking to the audience describing her relationship with her Grandmother and the way they would practice communicating telepathically. They did this so that when her Grandmother passed away they would hopefully still be able to communicate. Hilda will continue to serve as narrator throughout the play sliding in and out of scenes that recount her friendship with Linda, a Medium whom she believed can communicate with people who are gone. She wants to communicate with her Grandmother but also with her mother who has gone missing. We sense that she wants to know if she is dead or alive. As Hilda and Linda become close and spend more and more time together we drop in on a party with Linda’s Cousin Jerry and friend Sylvia, followed by a scene later that evening where Hilda takes Linda to her mother’s home. Finally, it ends with Hilda once again directly addressing the audience. What’s wonderful about all four of the characters is how much we learn about them through their conversation and behaviors. Very little is spelt out, one has questions about what exactly the relationships are between Linda and all three of the other characters. I really enjoyed the wonder and watching for clues that would more concretely define the connections.
Froiland and the rest of the Gremlin cast perfectly build the atmosphere of uneasiness, and uncertainty of what’s going to happen, to the point where you realize you have forgotten to breathe in anticipation.
What a wonderful opportunity for an actor to play these roles, where so much is implied, but left unstated. They really get to dig in and make choices, those choices help to lead the audience. But they stop short of doing anything that lets us into the inner circle, which is where Hnath wants us. He wants us to feel like Hilda, to be listeners, to be outside of the inner circle. Froiland is brilliant at using quietness to hold our attention, she is such a quiet presence that later when she tells a spooky story you become enthralled by the gradually building of tone and emotions she let’s seep into her speech. Cheryl Willis’ performance as Linda is the perfect contrast to Froiland’s, where Froiland is quiet and her quietness draws you in, Willis plays Linda as someone who would be uncomfortable if she wasn’t the center of attention. She’s a real character but completely believable and her English accent sounds genuine. Rounding out the cast are Peter Christian Hansen as Jerry and Katherine Kupiecki as Sylvia, their party scene interacting with Linda as Hilda watches is perfectly modulated, the three know how to step on each others lines just enough so that it sounds like old friends talking to, and over each other.
Ellen Fenster-Gharib directs the play in a simple low key style that lulls you into a sense of safety that she then slowly erodes. The decision to open the show with the house lights up and Froiland simply wandering out on stage and beginning to talk with us creates a sense of safety and community. It immediately throws us slightly off balance, but then allows Hilda to connect with us as if we are just hanging out having a conversation. Momentarily, you lose the divide between performer and audience, on stage and off. Fenster-Gharib trusts in the actors ability to engage us and realizes that there is no need for superfluous stage business. We are with the actors, their performances and the script are all we need for the majority of the play. When the play calls for a little something extra we get it in the work of Scenic and Lighting Designer Carl Schoenborn and Sound Designer Katharine Horowitz. Both the lighting and the sounds play crucial roles in the effectiveness of the production in creating a place where the barrier between our reality and the next becomes very thin. Is it super scary? Well, no. But, it is kinda scary and it builds ever so nicely. It’s perfect to take the wife who doesn’t like horror movies to, as it’s got a little scariness, but not too much. It’s a great story performed by a cast or actors who know just how to ratchet up the tension in such gradual increments that you suddenly realize you are on the edge of your seat and have no idea when you moved there.
The Thin Place runs through December 3rd at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://gremlintheatre.org/
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