Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's recent reviews of Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Set on a cold and deserted night at a bus stop situated between a hospital, a graveyard, and a liquor store, three individuals find themselves entwined in a web of mysterious interactions and conversations. Two strangers, the Woman and the Boy, meet at the bus stop and the teenage Boy convinces her to go to the liquor store to buy him a six pack of beer where she meets the Man, who owns the store. As revelations are exposed, a connection among these lost souls comes to the forefront. And that's all I'll say about the plot to avoid any potential spoilers.
Throughout the 75-minute, one-act play, Linklater challenges the audience with conversations that waver between the ordinary and the profound, a plot that isn't clear exactly where it's going for the first half of the drama, and some twists that some may think are too farfetched. However, while there is some ambiguity and the dialogue for the Boy sometimes goes off on tangents that also have tangents, there is also a beautiful clarity in the drama, realistic characters, witty dialogue that touches on themes of life and death, and several profound reflections on grief and loss that are stated in a simple and completely genuine way.
Under Carol MacLeod's smart direction, the cast create three realistic and believable characters who are haunted by the ghosts of their pasts. Iris Huey is excellent as the smart, strong, and vulnerable Woman, with a performance that has subtlety, nuance, and depth. As the Man, Dominik Rebilas beautifully demonstrates the pain of loss along with a profound sense of melancholy in a performance filled with humor and heart. Abraham Newsum infuses the Boy with an energetic eagerness and a desire to find a connection with the Woman.
All three actors understand the depth and emotional poignancy required to bring their characters vibrantly and compellingly to life under MacLeod's authentic direction. MacLeod smartly uses moments of silence and has her cast use appropriate looks that strangers would give each another when they first meet or are uncertain of the legitimacy of the comments a person is making, ensuring the sincerity of the characters. She also realistically stages the action so the mystery and uncertainty of the script remain compelling and that the audience is continually engaged in how the story will unfold.
The scenic design by Maia Landau uses only a few small set elements and beautiful painted murals, along with evocative and atmospheric lighting by Stacey Walston that perfectly depicts the chilly evening and the desolation of a late-night bus stop, and the cemetery, hospital, and liquor store that surround it.
Linklater has written a piece that may not be for everyone, especially in how it isn't entirely conventional and how the first half wanders a bit. It also may be slightly confusing or too farfetched for those used to a traditional drama. Fortunately, it's also full of beauty and poignancy that should connect with those who've dealt with loss, and its haunting characters and provocative themes that touch upon the uncertainly of life will most likely linger with you for days after seeing it.
The Vandal runs through December 10, 2023, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.TheStudioPHX.org or call 602-765-0120
Director: Carol MacLeod