Monster Month started a day early here at The Stages of MN with a trip down to New Prague for DalekoArts’ season opener The Thin Place. The first thing I always have to ask myself with a show that requires, depending on your location, a 40 to 80 minute drive, is it worth it? The answer, thankfully, in this case is yes! First of all, it’s a lovely drive down to New Prague particularly the last 10 miles or so once you exit 169. It felt like as we got closer to the theater the countryside had decided to begin changing into it’s Halloween costume. The leaves began to change, the small towns we drove through took on a Sleepy Hollow feel. By the time we reached the theater I was primed for a story that delved into the unknown. 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 succeeds because it is first and foremost a study of characters, which also doesn’t work well unless you have a great cast, which DalekoArts has certainly achieved with these actors.
The Thin Place is a relatively new play written by Lucas Hnath who’s play A Doll’s House Part 2 was nominated for a Tony Award in 2017. As with his continuation of Ibsen’s classic he has crafted a drama that focuses on characters, their motivations, and their relationships. 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. 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.
What a wonderful opportunity for an actor to play these roles, where so much is implied, but left unstated. You really get to dig in and make choices, those choices help to lead the audience. But this cast is a tease, 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. Kayla Dvorak Feld is brilliant at using quietness to hold our attention. There’s a moment you have towards the beginning of the play where you start to wonder if it will just be this one actress sitting in a chair talking to us. And in that moment you think to yourself thank God she’s this good or it might have been tough going. About that time Lolly Foy enters stage left, Foy’s performance is the perfect contrast to Feld’s. Where Feld is quiet and her quietness draws you in, Foy 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, I was surprised to read she’s from Texas, raised in North Carolina. Rounding out the cast are Edwin Strout as Jerry and Siri Hellerman 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.
Ben Thietje directs the play as a no frills affair. The decision to open the show with the house lights up and Feld simply wandering out on stage and beginning to talk with us was inspired. It immediately throws us slightly of 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. He 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 he works it beautifully with the assistance of Ellie Simonett’s lighting design and Kevin Springer’s spare but well utilized sound design. Is it super scary? Well, no. But, it is kinda scary in a couple of parts 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 and a fantastic lead performance by Kayla Dvorak Feld and equally impressive supporting work from Lolly Foy.
The Thin Place only runs for 5 more performance Oct 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. It is recommended for ages 16 and older, I imagine that is due to the language more than anything else. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.dalekoarts.com/season-11
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