Chicago Theater Review: THE VANDAL (Steep Theatre)

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by Barnaby Hughes on October 3, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Thirty-something actor and writer Hamish Linklater’s The Vandal is one of those plays that starts well and ends poorly. It begins with a middle-aged woman waiting at a bus stop in Kingston, New York. She’s soon joined by a teenaged boy who engages her in conversation. The realism of the woman’s awkwardness and the boy’s brazenness immediately draw in the audience. He soon wears her down so that she agrees to buy him beer at the corner liquor store. There, she discovers that the store owner is the boy’s dad. Through a series of awkward manipulations, he forces her to reveal the truth about her recent bereavement and straitened circumstances. Had The Vandal continued in that vein, it would have been a poignant statement about the nature of grieving, told with a comic touch. But it doesn’t.

Jack Miggins and Kendra Thulin in Steep Theatre's THE VANDAL. Photo by Lee Miller.

Back at the bus stop, the woman and the boy bond over beer and bourbon. In the process, he elaborates some hilarious allegories about the act of eating Doritos, not to mention an uproariously irreverent interpretation of the biblical Job’s suffering. From the moment the boy kisses her, however, the story goes in an unexpected, unnecessary, and wholly unsatisfactory direction. Without spoiling the ending, suffice it to say that the woman ends up in the cemetery sharing with the liquor store owner what remains of her six-pack.

Alex Gillmor and Kendra Thulin in Steep Theatre's THE VANDAL. Photo by Lee Miller.

As the boy, Steep Theatre Company newcomer Jack Miggins animates and enlivens the first and third scenes of The Vandal. He is charming, witty, and funny, but also vulnerable. In his absence, the second and fourth scenes, featuring the man and woman, feel stilted and uncomfortable. While this is likely the aim of Linklater’s writing, it’s hard not to conclude that Miggins has something to do with it as well. Kendra Thulin, in the role of the Woman, pales in comparison to Miggins, but shines in relation to Alex Gillmor’s Man. Gillmor’s slow-burning intensity, however, does provide the spark that ignites Thulin’s fire. The result is a dramatic and compelling burst of anger and swearing that proves Linklater can write drama as well as comedy.

Jack Miggins and Kendra Thulin in Steep Theatre's THE VANDAL -photo by Lee Miller.

Director Shade Murray presents The Vandal simply and starkly, even abstractly, allowing Linklater’s sprightly dialogue to speak for itself. The scene is set with the noise of a real bus stopping and starting, courtesy of sound designer Rick Sims, but the bus shelter itself is represented by set designer Dan Stratton’s collection of smooth white surfaces. Thus, Miggins and Thulin are left sitting on a white box rather than an actual bench. It’s an odd, but not ineffective setup. This Midwest premiere production, like Hamish Linklater’s play itself, is best when remaining within the realist mode. The Vandal’s bizarre conclusion ruins an otherwise keenly observed drama.

Kendra Thulin and Alex Gillmor in Steep Theatre's THE VANDAL. Photo by Lee Miller.

photos by Lee Miller

The Vandal
Steep Theatre Company
Steep Theatre, 1115 West Berwyn
Thurs – Sat at 8; select Sun at 3
scheduled to end on November 8, 2014
for tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or visit

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