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Shows Worth Seeing:

The Vandal
By Hamish Linklater
The Flea Theater
41 White St.
Box office: (212) 352-3101

The “public bench play” has been a trusty sub-genre of American drama. Highlights include Albee’s The Zoo Story, Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year, and Baraka’s Dutchman. The basic pattern is familiar and excitingly back-loaded: an innocuous public bench (set in a park, bus stop, subway) offers an occasion for strangers to fall into conversation, become improbably entangled, and then wonder what’s really going on—after which a shocker-twist ending usually sets the whole encounter in a surprising new light. Hamish Linklater’s subtly observed The Vandal is the latest iteration, a vivid and poignant bench-encounter that may not break any new ground with its subject matter (like some of the plays just mentioned) but is nevertheless quite an impressive playwriting debut. Linklater is known primarily as a gifted comic actor (the bright star of School for Lies last year at CSC), and in fact the acting in this production of The Vandal, directed by Jim Simpson, is one of its best assets.

Deirdre O’Connell plays a dour middle-aged woman who is chatted up by a teenage boy (Noah Robbins) at a bus stop outside a hospital. Charming and shrewd, the boy soon talks her into buying him beer at a nearby liquor store, whose owner turns out to be the kid’s father (Zach Grenier). But that’s not the main surprise. Questions soon crop up about the hospital, the liquor store, the cemetery across the street, the back stories of the characters, and more. The truth here is revealed to be a fluid and shifting thing that you become less and less sure of the more the people talk. Their conversation, increasingly lubricated by alcohol, reveals bits of the past that have been carefully hidden. Except, that is, when they aren’t. Saying much more would risk a spoiler. This show should be seen. Huzzahs to everyone involved in bringing its searching, sweetly melancholy world to life.



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