As long as there have been buses, there have been men trying to talk to women at bus stops. Or at least I assume that’s the case. But sometimes the man is just a boy, and the boy is just trying to convince the woman to buy him a six-pack of Bud.
So begins The Vandal by Hamish Linklater. It is a solid script with solid, and sometimes excellent, performances. The only distraction for me was the question – would it really go down this way? Would this conversation reeeeally continue in real life? But that’s the allure of the theatre – getting to see these unlikely conversations played out to their fullest conclusions. And through that interaction, Linklater explores more themes than I thought you could fit into 75 minutes without muddling the story.
A boy and a woman meet at a bus stop down the hill from a hospital and a graveyard. The boy is surprisingly confident and philosophical for a high school student, and has no problem engaging with – and even flirting with – the older woman, who takes the conversation in stride.
The boy wants beer. His surprising tactic of giving a detailed account of the events leading up to his classmate’s suicide actually works. He convinces the woman to hit up the liquor store around the corner. As soon as the liquor store owner gets involved though, the threads of their stories start to unravel. Nothing is quite as it seems – and it works in this show.
closesJuly 28, 2018
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Linklater has created a world in which his characters lie. But they own up to it. Sometimes. And I genuinely wanted to find out what the truth was. Because in just an hour, I truly cared about these characters and their stories, and most of the credit for that goes to Ettman’s direction and her actors’ performances.
The opening scene is full of quick-moving conversation and double entendre that Alison Bauer (WOMAN) and Gianna Rapp (BOY) handle adeptly without overplaying. Bauer in particular is beautifully heart-wrenching as she attempts to pretend that everything is fine and that she’s in control of her life. And as revelations come one after another, Tom Howley (MAN) opens up with a hopeful vulnerability that had me in tears.
Wait a second, you might be saying. BOY is played by an actor named Gianna? Am I missing something? Nope, you sure aren’t. Ettman, in an attempt to create opportunities for the plethora of women in our community, requested and received permission for a gender-blind casting of BOY.
Now I am a huge feminist. So the greatest compliment that I can give this play is that I didn’t spend my time watching it mentally cheering Rapp and the production on for making the change. Nor was I distracted by the performance. It just didn’t matter. She was a person on a stage playing a boy. Full stop.
Caos on F is not a large space, and design elements could easily overtake a show that relies so heavily on dialogue, but the designers showed that they were aware of and respected that fact. Dan Remmers’ set is a minimal bench and snack sales cart, and that’s all they need. Reid May’s harp and piano-laden sound design contributes to a reality in which you’re constantly questioning whether what you just heard was legitimate, or if it was part of someone’s game. And if you lie to help, is that okay?
The Vandal addresses that question. It wants to know if you choose life when you see the opportunity to do so. Whether you can ever really empathize with what someone else has been through, because you haven’t lived their experiences. And if strangers should be talking about death as though they’re talking about the weather. It’s a lot, and it has kept me thinking.
So come for the metaphysical musings about Cool Ranch Doritos, but stay for the emotions that director Aly B. Ettman has wrung from this script.
The Vandal by Hamish Linklater: Directed by Aly B. Ettman. Cast: Gianna Rapp, Alison Bauer, Tom Howley. Stage Manager: Daniel Debner. Set Designer: Dan Remmers. Lighting Designer: Allie Heiman. Sound Designer: Reid May. Costume Designer: Aly B. Ettman.