A teenager chats up a woman old enough to be his mother (but just barely) at a freezing cold hospital-and-cemetery-adjacent Kingston, NY bus stop and then …

It’s the “and then” that makes Hamish Linklater’s The Vandal a quirkily comedic, profoundly moving 80-minute wonder in its Chance Theater West Coast Premiere.

Sam Bullington (more than fulfilling the promise revealed earlier this year in David Hare’s Skylight) is garrulous seventeen-year-old Robert and Amanda Zarr (matching her 2018 star turn in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People) is the considerably less outgoing Margaret, but the night is cold, they’ve got at least twenty minutes till the next bus arrives, and if Robert can convince Margaret to take the twenty he’s got folded up in his pocket, pop on over to the nearby liquor store, and pick up a six-pack of beer for them to share, the wait might not be all that bad.

Not that persuading Margaret to score them some Buds proves an easy task, but once Robert has quizzed her about her reasons for having been at the hospital, opened up to her about the tragic circumstances surrounding his birth, and recounted a classmate’s ill-fated affair with his French teacher, what’s a woman to do but exactly what the chatty charmer requests?

If this first scene has already raised questions about how much of what Robert and Margaret are telling each other is true, these questions are only multiplied by Margaret’s conversation with a liquor store owner (Robert Foran) who’s got something to say to a woman who’d buy beer for a minor who just happens to be …

If I’ve been deliberately vague in my description of The Vandal’s first twenty minutes, it’s with good reason. The less you know going in (and that means knowing nothing at all about the play’s concluding hour), the better.

Suffice it to say that The Vandal offers more than its fair share of laughs, some unexpected tears, at least one “I didn’t see that coming” twist, and a deeply touching look at love and loss and despair and hope.

It’s also a terrific showcase for Kari Hayter’s ingenious, incisive direction, the wry, intriguing, simply marvelous Zarr, and her alternating pair of scene partners.

I described Bullington’s featured performance in Skylight as both heartbreaking and irresistible and the same holds true with his electrifying work in The Vandal, and with good reason. (If Robert weren’t so darned appealing, you’d never buy that Margaret wouldn’t cut and run.)

Chance favorite Foran (who shared the stage with Zarr in The Chance’s Good People) matches his co-stars every step of the way as a man who’s got more than enough reason to quiz Margaret about her bus stop encounter and just as much reason to want their first meeting not to be their last.

Scenic designer Joe Holbrook manages to fit a bus stop, a liquor store, and a cemetery on the matchbook-sized Fyda-Mar stage in a top-notch production design enhanced by Nick Van Houten’s evocative lighting, Cricket S. Myers’ enticing sound design, Elizabeth A. Cox’s just-right costumes, and Megan Hill’s beer/Cool Ranch Doritos array of props.

Karen O’Hanlon is assistant director/dialect choach. Jazmin “JP” Pollinger is stage manager, Lia Weed is assistant stage manager, and Morgan Green is dramaturg.

Hamish Linklater may be best known for his performances in TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Crazy Ones, and Legion, but as The Vandal makes abundantly clear, he knows how to write one doozy of a play as well. Expect to be mesmerized.

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Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Through October 27. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 3:00. Also Thursday October 3 at 7:30 and Saturdays October 12 and 19 at 3:00. Reservations: 714 777-3033

–Steven Stanley
September 27, 2019
Photos: Doug Catiller/True Image Studio


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