Review: 'The Vandal' is suspenseful, funny drama

January 31, 2013 - 9:31 PM
Theater Review The Vandal

This theater image released Spin Cycle shows Deirde O’Connell, left, and Zach Grenier during a performance of "The Vandal," at the Flea Theatre in New York. (AP Photo/Spin Cycle, Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK (AP) — Sometimes on a cold, foggy night, waiting for a bus outdoors, things just seem spookier than normal.

This scenario plays out naturally in "The Vandal," a suspenseful new play by Hamish Linklater. The Flea Theater is world premiering Linklater's broody drama about grief and survival, which melds surprising, often morbid humor with plot twists that connect the characters in unexpected ways.

Jim Simpson, artistic director at The Flea, guides the reflective 75-minute production so that even silences, non-responses and glances are important.

Linklater is better known as a stage and TV actor, particularly for "Seminar" on Broadway last year. Here, he's written a tight, suspenseful drama with ordinary-sounding dialogue that creates empathy for his three characters while building tension.

A chatty teenage boy (played with amiable snarkiness by Noah Robbins) tries to ingratiate himself with an older woman sitting at a bus stop, in hopes she'll buy him some beer. Deirdre O'Connell is perfectly cast as the unnamed, world-weary, middle-aged widow. O'Connell, a 2010 Obie and Drama Desk-winner for "Circle Mirror Transformation," can convey multiple emotions with one incredulous sideways glare.

Zach Grenier is subtle and solid as a liquor store owner who seems to know a lot about the boy, and figures out important information about the woman when she interacts with him. Their scene in his store becomes increasingly stressful when her tough facade is challenged, yet they sort of flirt, in between arguments,

Maybe because the bus stop is next to a cemetery and a hospital, the boy speaks a lot about people who've died, creating wild metaphors connecting Doritos and dreams and death. Grenier's character eventually imparts that anger is "a standalone for me. I don't think it's gotta be part of a process, a larger process. I think it can be its own thing."

In addition to the terrific acting, the design team aids mightily, especially with lighting, in creating an eerie, unsettling atmosphere in ordinary-seeming locations. Between the Jim Beam and the beer, secrets are revealed, feelings are shared and some mysteries are solved while others deepen.

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Online:

http://www.theflea.org