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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The Boy may find it a hilarious example of practical city planning to have the place where people go to be saved from illness and death (unless they're giving birth) conveniently near where they'd be headed if things didn't work out well. Indeed, His non-stop talk is funny and engaging enough to make us think that actor Hamish Linklater's first venture into playwriting is a comedy that happens to play out in a dark and dismal setting. But the laughs, and realism evoked by the Boy's chatter is deceptive. The Vandal merely uses a light touch to move into much darker, more fantastical territory.
Though Robbins' initial talkathon is amusing and wonderfully natural, it's Linklater's exploration of those darker themes that stayed with me long after I saw the play: Untimely sudden deaths, painfully drawn out deaths and ways of dealing with grief. These are subjects that are with us daily even though we tend to avoid dwelling on them — which may account for my not writing this review for several days after seeing The Vandal last Saturday.
It so happened that just before I sat down at my laptop the same morning I read an obituary for playwright Corinne Jacker who was known as a dramatist able to bring a light touch to potentially morbid subject.. Her best known Obie awarded play Bits and Pieces, was about how the widow of a young college professor who has donated most of his organs for transplants copes with her loss by roaming the world to seek out the recipients. If Jacker were still alive and able to check out young writers following in her footsteps, she'd surely be down at the Flea and giving a thumbs up to Linklater as someone following in her footsteps.
Without going into surprise spoiling chapter and verse, Robbins pretty much dominates the first of this short, intermission play's four scenes. His comments and questions seduce the glum older woman to respond . In fact she even ends up agreeing to buy him the beer the proprietor of the close by liquor store won't sell him without proper proof of age. O'Connell, an ever riveting actress, once again gives a richly shaded performance.
As the bus stop portion of David M. Barber's versatile set, atmospherically lit by Brian Aldous, goes dark the spotlight shifts to a liquor store at the heretofore darkened area t the side of the Flea's small stage, Here we meet the third generically named character, Man. The store's proprietor is Zach Grenier. Quite a a departure from the brash law partner in The Good Wife TV series. Grenier is a third reason to see this production, even if only for the triple threat excellence of the acting.
The Man-Woman liquor store encounter takes O'Connell's performance into full emotional throttle. By the time we're back at the bus stop we know there's more than a casual connection between Boy and Man. How the Woman fits into this becomes clearer — and eerier. For the final scene, the clever Barber has created yet another setting. This one is below the bus stop and liquor store setting that ties all the loose ends together.
Linklater's concluding plot twist could easily be seen as maudlin and manufactured but, thanks to Jim Simpson's subtle direction and O'Connell and Grenier's equally subtle acting , it's a quite moving and fitting ending to this contemporary fairy tale. Interesting debut!
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