In his playwright debut, Hamish Linklater nails it! THE VANDAL is engrossing and poignant. Linklater’s story is multiple stories told by three characters. From the start, we are engaged in these people’s lives. A precocious Jack Miggins (boy) aggressively needles a sullen Kendra Thulin (woman) at a bus stop. Their exchange starts the sharing of tales. It continues as Thulin is goaded into buying beer from Alex Gillmor (man). The simple transaction gets complicated as the overfamiliar Gillmor pries into Thulin’s affairs. The swapping of personal stories keeps the characters on guard and the audience on edge. Who are these people? What does each want? What is really going on?
Linklater spins this intricate collusion. His web connects a hospital, a cemetery and a liquor store. Director Shade Murray gingerly places Linklater’s characters into this delicately threaded story of life and loss. Murray then masterfully orchestrates his talented ensemble in wiggling free. The play is dialogue driven. And each character tries to talk their way out of their own mental confinement.
Murray paces this tight. The disclosure is authentically impulsive. The rapid conversations flow with the awkward naturalness of strangers over-sharing. The characters unravel organically. The conflicting stories spill out. At one point, Thulin is so convincing in a fabrication that Miggins demands proof that she is not who she pretended to be. The audience is right there with Miggins in disbelief. We desperately want Thulin to be lying that she was lying. We want Miggins to find solace. We want any of these isolated people to connect to each other. Their loneliness spurs a strong empathetic response.
THE VANDAL is a riveting enigma. It is almost an interactive experience as the audience, along with the characters, actively sift through all the tales to determine the truth. Linklater’s story of stories also has unexpected charm, humor and twists. The surprising moments made me mist up, laugh out and prickle all over.
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn
Written by Hamish Linklater
Directed by Shade Murray
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru November 8th
Buy Tickets at www.steeptheatre.com