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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 28, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 22
Thin Place a thoughtful trip into religion
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Thin Place a thoughtful trip into religion

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Thin Place
Intiman Theatre
Through June 13


The world-premiere play The Thin Place just opened at Intiman Theatre. It was written by local playwright Sonya Schneider and conceived and directed by Andrew Russell, the new associate producer at Intiman. Schneider drew from interviews done by KUOW radio personality Marcie Sillman, who spoke to people about their connection to faith. She was commissioned in 2009 to do this interview series for a play.

Sillman spoke to many people from almost every religious and spiritual aspect you can think of, including an atheist. These conversations were built into an evening around a young man who struggles with his own belief system while matching it to his family and voices in his head, which turn out to be the panoply of people who were interviewed. It is a reasonable choice for Schneider and Russell to weave these disparate stories together.

This young man's journey continues through the trial of faith he has when his mother gets sick and then dies. This triggers him to try to believe for himself, rather than take the words of others. He reads and rereads the Bible, sometimes believing in it more fervently and sometimes seeing incongruities. The personalities who speak through him include a young Muslim-American teenage girl, a man from Vietnam, a white man from South Africa, a Jewish woman who survived the shootout at the Jewish Federation a few years ago, and his uncle, the atheist - 11 people in all.

The 75-minute production is beautifully appointed, with a striking see-through set of walls and a large ramp leading to a landing of dirt and rocks, designed by Etta Lilienthal. Lighting by Ben Zamora ranges from intense to shadowy to carved-out rectangular spots on the floor as the Vietnamese man speaks about spending 18 months in a box with no light. Sound designer Matt Starritt weaves in moody and beautiful orchestral arrangements to change scenes or span time.

The one actor, Gbenga Akinnagbe, is a powerful, arresting actor who commands attention throughout. He makes many good transitions to different characters, but has yet to find concrete ways of consistently portraying the females. Character changing in one-person presentations is a unique art, and one that he may gain strength in over the production, but there are times when movements that are more "Akinnagbe" than the specific character jar one out of his presentation. He is most successful as the men.

The script has beautiful passages and is a thoughtful exploration of religion and spirituality in many forms. The "thin place" is described as a place where humans and God come together to intersect, and is named a Buddhist concept. The subject is treated gently, so there is no affront or attack on any aspect. Each person is allowed his or her voice without judgment.

Overall, there is a lot to appreciate about the effort and a lot to like about experiencing Akinnagbe as an actor. It's an attempt to plunge more deeply into a subject that means something to everyone, one way or another, and can get you thinking and talking and maybe even understanding more than you did. For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call 206-269-1900.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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