• by Sarah Teach •
Hamish Linklater—perhaps best known for his role alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the CBS series The New Adventures of Old Christine—makes his playwriting debut with The Vandal, a dark comedy that launched at the Off-Off-Broadway Flea Theater in January 2013. Now playing at Nantucket’s White Heron Theatre Company (WHTC), The Vandal is a thoroughly engrossing story, even before we get to the riveting twist.
A stranger wants to make small talk at the bus stop. Oh man, why can’t he go find another bench? That seems to be the thought process of the woman in The Vandal, who is waiting for her ride when the teenage boy next to her attempts a chat. The woman, a foul-mouthed misanthrope, sniffs and pulls her jacket tighter as she bristles against the New York evening chill and the boy’s concentrated efforts at conversation. But gradually and intentionally, the boy transitions from irritating to endearing. He weasels his way into the woman’s affections, then drops a little bomb: he wants her to buy him some booze. Who can blame him? He’s a 17-year-old kid. The two of them sit and banter for a while, and she gives in. This does not exactly solidify her spot as an unflawed character, despite her proud efforts to appear distinguished. But somehow we don’t blame the woman any more than we do the boy. Neither does the grim fellow who owns the liquor store, once he forces her backstory out of her.
After his move from annoying to charming, the boy makes yet another shift to uncanny. We realize he is probably mentally ill, perhaps suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. As the bus comes and goes and the duo’s conversation deepens, you see the boy and the woman share an element of insanity that could seemingly prevail at any moment, given the right triggers. And slowly, those triggers start getting pulled. Once the firing squad has had its way, we see that the woman, the boy, and the man all initially portrayed themselves as something they were not.
Not once are all three characters onstage at the same time, but that doesn’t make us see their connection any less clearly. Under the direction of Lynne Bolton (WHTC’s president, founder and artistic director), Brandon Reilly plays the boy with piercing emotion that renders him exceptionally believable. Brandy Zarle (Woman) is almost constantly onstage, yet saves ample energy for her most demanding scene, which comes last. Michael Kopko (Man), consistently convincing in his roles, is undoubtedly one of the most talented actors on the island.
Playwright, Hamish Linklater’s dialogue is peculiar, but plausible. As an actor, he has a firm understanding of the cadence of onstage conversation and what makes it work for an audience. The ending is surprising, but does not lean on shock value. Kudos to Linklater for this excellent writing debut; I hope to see much more of his writing materialize onstage. Good on WHTC for trusting in a new and relatively untested play.
Despite its minimalistic set, The Vandal provides fully realized surroundings, exemplifying the fact that great story and great acting will always transcend bells and whistles. You have only four more chances to see The Vandal at WHTC. It shows under the tent at 5 North Water Street at 7:30 p.m. from Thursday, September 11 through Sunday, September 14. Tickets are $42.50 at whiteherontheatre.org, by calling 508-825-5268, or at the door. The Vandal runs 75 minutes with a 10-minute intermission. Due to language, this show is only suitable for adults and mature teens.