Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE VANDAL (Flea Theater)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on January 29, 2013

in Theater-New York

FUNNY CONVERSATIONS ABOUT DEATH

Hamish Linklater’s very funny, sharp and tender new 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 skinny 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.

Dmitri Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE VANDAL at the Flea NYC

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.

Dmitri Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE VANDAL at the Flea NYC

Jim Simpson’s dynamic, no-nonsense direction keeps the show well-grounded and immediate. He brings out the humor and humanity of Mr. Linklater’s script, allowing the philosophy to flow from the characters’ – not the author’s – mouths. The performances he elicits are naturalistic, exciting and precise. The very talented Noah Robbins gives a delightfully animated portrayal of the Boy, conjuring all the anxiety, confidence and vulnerability of a very smart but somewhat lost high-school kid. A riveting Deirdre O’Connell turns in a wonderfully nuanced and soulful rendering of the Woman. And the always satisfying Zach Grenier plays his Man with just the right combination of resignation and hopefulness.

Dmitri Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE VANDAL at the Flea NYC

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.

Set design: David M. Barber. Lighting design: Brian Aldous. Costume design: Claudia Brown. Sound design and original music: Brandon Walcott.

Dmitri Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema review of THE VANDAL at the Flea NYC

photos by Joan Marcus

The Vandal
The Flea Theater
ends on February 17, 2013
EXTENDED to March 3, 2013
for tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit The Flea

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