by Ruth Ross
The Vandals, an East Germanic barbarian tribe who supposedly “sacked and looted Rome,” gave their name to vandalism, a term used to describe any senseless destruction, especially of physical property. However, in Hamish Linklater’s black comedy The Vandals, the destruction is less physical, for the most part, but no less devastating.
Under Betsy True’s steady, nuanced direction, the folks at Alliance Rep once more do what they do best: finding and producing little-known plays on a shoestring to introduce theatergoers to something they may never have seen before. Known primarily as an actor, Linklater has penned a touching play the destruction of truth and trust.
Things are not quite what they seem for the three characters, thrown together by a missed bus on a gloomy, cold winter night in Kingston, New York. Was the Woman, played with anguished reticence by a stellar Beth Painter, really visiting her friend in the hospital? Was the Boy, an exuberant and drolly natural Will Callahan, visiting a friend’s grave in a nearby cemetery? Is the Man in the liquor store, a wryly affecting David Christopher, the boy’s father? Are the stories these three strangers tell each other true? Are the stories they tell themselves true? Can we believe anything they say? These questions are the heart of Linklater’s quirky play. As the characters reveal themselves bit by bit, secrets are disclosed, and, perhaps, some connections are made.
Without giving away to much, suffice it to say that this offbeat ghost story slowly warms your heart. Beth Painter beautifully portrays a woman whose watched her husband die slowly from cancer as he fell in love with his nurse. Young Will Callahan displays a winning personality and great comedic skill in his portrayal of a wise-guy teenager trying to charm a strange woman into buying him a six-pack of Budweiser, even though he is underage. He is adorably manipulative and acts the role very convincingly. David Christopher, a long-time Alliance Rep member (as is Painter), is both flirtatious with the Woman and heartbreaking in the final scene where he discloses the biggest secret of all and reaches out to her in his sorrow.
The simple set—a bus stop bench and a liquor store counter—designed by David Munro situates the place while it allows us to focus on the personalities. The final scene in a cemetery is furnished with headstones and a mural painted by Gordon Wiener. Ed Pearson’s atmospheric lighting design is supplemented by Sean Garnhart’s appropriate sound design.
Down in the lower level of Mondo in Summit, Alliance Repertory Theatre has produced and performed another winner. Yes, there is some actual vandalism in The Vandals, but in the end it serves to build another relationship filled with hope.
The Vandals will be performed at Mondo, 426 Springfield Ave., Summit (lower level) through October 15. For reservations, call 908-472-1502 or visit online at http://www.alliancerep.org/ .
Photos by Howard Fischer