Review: THE VANDAL at Theatre Artists Studio

The production runs through December 10th at The Studio in Scottsdale, AZ.

By: Nov. 21, 2023
Review: THE VANDAL at Theatre Artists Studio

For his first outing as a playwright, Hamish Linklater ~ star of tv (in The Newsroom and most notably as Matthew Kimble in The New Adventures of Old Christine), film (42 and The Big Short) and stage (Twelfth Night and Seminar) ~ has left a lot to be decoded in the mysteriously titled THE VANDAL. It’s as if, not unlike Snoopy, he keyed in the phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night..." and streamed his consciousness into this moody piece of dramedy.

His latest creative foray offers some insight into the core themes that permeate the play. Linklater has collaborated with Lily Rabe in producing and directing Downtown Owl, a film based on Chuck Klosterman’s novel about three lonesome residents in a town called Owl whose lives are impacted by a deadly blizzard and whose eventual relationship is transformative. There’s an old man who reminisces about the good old days, a depressed high school football player, and a high school English teacher.

Point is Linklater is into exploring the primal need for connection, particularly in the context of death and dying. The play, sensitively directed by Carol MacLeod, is now getting a most engaging treatment at Theatre Artists Studio.

In THE VANDAL, the focus is on (yes!) three lonesome residents in a town in upstate New York for whom connection is wrapped in a shroud of eerie mystery. A woman (Iris Huey) is waiting for a bus (it’s a cold night) when a boy (Abraham Newsum) engages her in a wide-ranging philosophical riff that culminates in a request that she score him some beer from the nearby store that is managed by a man (Dominik Rebilas) who, it turns out may be the boy’s father.

The bus stop, rather symbolically, is at the intersection of a hospital, a liquor store, and a cemetery ~ the crossroads of mortality where death, dying, and drinking play their parts in the circle of life. It is the point of departure from which none of the characters escape the fabrications of their lives or, for that matter, mortality. The boy regales the woman, rather senior to his youthful years, with tall tales and an extraordinary riff on Cool Ranch Doritos. He even gets flirtatious. She is initially withdrawn and dismissive but, as time passes, she lowers her defenses and shares her own stories with the boy.

As powerful as is the presence of the boy (Newsum plays the role with gusto), it doesn’t take long before we realize that THE VANDAL is all about the woman. Her entry into the liquor store triggers a confrontation with its manager that is transformational in her character and revealing about her own vulnerability and lies. Huey plays the change to good and moving effect, in large part because of her chemistry with Rebilas, who delivers a commanding performance as a street savvy proprietor and a man with a grief of his own. Their connection evolves, culminating in a scene at the cemetery that is jaw-dropping for its reveal about the identity and essence of vandalism ~ a cry for relief and redemption.

By play’s end, you may be uncertain as to where the truth lies but you will nevertheless be moved by the humanity of it all. What should be clear, however, is that the truth may not be as important as the story that enables each character to cope with the burdens of their lives.

THE VANDAL runs through December 10th at The Studio in Scottsdale, AZ.

Theatre Artists Studio ~ 4848 E. Cactus Road, Suite 406, Scottsdale, AZ ~ ~ 602-765-0120

Photo credit to Mark Gluckman