Theater Review: THE VANDAL (West Coast Premiere at Chance Theatre)

by Tony Frankel on October 7, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

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Actor Hamish Linklater’s funny, sharp and tender play The Vandal begins on a cold winter night as a down-on-her-luck middle-aged woman waits for a bus on a deserted street. A high-school boy appears and starts up a conversation. Precocious and lively, he quickly overcomes the woman’s reluctance to participate. He points out to her that their bus stop is at the center of a triangle formed by a hospital, a cemetery and a liquor store; he’s just come from the cemetery and he asks her to score him some beer at the store. At first she refuses, but his intelligence and youthful charm are irresistible, and before long we begin to sense that despite his years and the difference in their ages she’s beginning to succumb to his flirtatious advances.

An urban fairytale, Mr. Linklater’s play lovingly reinvents an old story. In fact in many ways The Vandal is about stories, mythologies we think up to lighten the load of life’s harsh and indifferent reality. Characters tell one another facts about their lives, many of which, as the show progresses, we learn to be fabrications. But then something unexpected happens: the difference between the two becomes unimportant. We get the sense that for these people telling and/or believing in accommodating fictions is more valuable than accepting the ugly facts. The remarkable thing (and this is a testament to the sophistication of Mr. Linklater’s writing) is that the “lies” do not isolate or limit these personages, spiritually speaking. On the contrary they liberate their spirits, leading them to a higher order of truthfulness, where they can thrive in a world that is rational and has meaning, a world where love, compassion, and hope do exist.

In this West Coast premiere, Kari Hayter’s no-nonsense direction at the Chance Theatre keeps the show well-grounded and intimate. She brings out the humor and humanity of the script, allowing the philosophy to flow from the characters’ — not the author’s — mouths. The performances she elicits are naturalistic, exciting and precise. The very talented Sam Bullington gives a delightfully animated portrayal of the Boy, conjuring all the anxiety and confidence of a very smart but somewhat lost high-school kid. A riveting Amanda Zarr turns in a wonderfully nuanced and soulful rendering of the Woman. And Rob Foran plays his Man with just the right combination of resignation, vulnerability and hopefulness.

There is a twist at the end of The Vandal which, if viewed as a whodunit-type revelation, might seem like a cheap trick, a shortcut. It is however something different. Mr. Linklater’s play is the reworking of a myth, the dramatization of a collective dream, and from that perspective the final twist is not only an essential element but one that also adds a layer of mystical, dreamlike frosting to our experience, enhancing its aftertaste.

photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

The Vandal
Chance Theater
Fyda-Mar Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center
5522 E. La Palma in Anaheim
ends on October 20, 2019 EXTENDED to October 27, 2019
for tickets, call 888.455.4212 or visit Chance

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