Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Thin Place - Intiman Theatre

The Thin Place
Intiman Theatre
May 21 – June 13, 2010
Tickets and Information

Intiman's new play, The Thin Place, was created deliberately as an exploration of both Seattle and faith. Artistic Director Kate Whoriskey and Associate Producer Andrew Russell commissioned KUOW reporter Marcie Sillman to interview Seattle residents about God, religion and faith. Interviewees included a young Muslim girl, a gay Christian man from South Africa, a priest defrocked for being both Christian and Muslim, and a survivor of the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation, among many others. Playwright Sonya Schneider shaped the interviews into a theatrical narrative following one fictionalized character and involving ten others.

The result is a surprisingly compelling play that offers relatable moments for everyone, regardless of your beliefs. The Thin Place revolves around Isaac, the son of a Pentecostal minister, and his personal discovery and questioning of faith. Isaac is played by Gbenga Akinnagbe, who also portrays the ten other characters—lightly (if at all) fictionalized versions of people Sillman interviewed. Each character is unique, each has something different to say about faith and their relationship with God, and each one opens Isaac's eyes a little further, or gives him a new direction to take.
Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Although one or two transitions are a little confusing, overall Akinnagbe proves adept at embodying each of the ten other people he meets, both as characters in their own right and as they relate to Isaac's spiritual journey. Akinnagbe, with movement/choreography help from Donald Byrd, has precise control over his physicality; he uses it, and his voice, to great effect, in both humorous and touching moments.

Andrew Russell's direction keeps the pace steady and the story clear, and uses Etta Lillienthal's open, breezy set well. Ben Zamora's precise lighting assists the story indispensably, and Matt Starritt's sound design offers aural atmosphere as well as incorporating the real voices of the original interviewees into the play itself.

In the final piece, Seattle initally seems almost incidental. Isaac arrives in the city about halfway through his story, and although we hear about it several times, the play is really more about a spiritual journey, and the beliefs of people who happen to live in Seattle, rather than about the city itself. However, Seattle, and the Seattleites this play was based on, underlie the entire narrative of The Thin Place. Intiman deserves much credit for cultivating locally-based theatrical work, for involving so many local writers, journalists, and citizens, and for boldy creating a world premiere that reaches out to its hometown.

Review by Kenna M. Kettrick

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