Huddled behind a scarf and heavy jacket, arms folded for warmth, a woman waits at a bus stop, a white cloud of breath pouring out of her. She's in the heart of Kingston, walking distance from the Benedictine Hospital. A teenager breaks the wall of her silence, sitting beside her and beginning to speak, though she'd much rather not be bothered. This is the premise of "The Vandal," to be presented by the Tangent Theatre Company in Tivoli this month.
"The Vandal" is an 80-minute play that involves only three characters yet contains enough mystery and intrigue to leave the audience talking for hours after the curtains close. A reserved widow waits for a bus as a friendly 17-year-old boy engages her in conversation, encouraging her to break out of her shell. The minor ultimately cons her into buying him beer. Ironically, the owner of the liquor store, perhaps equally as lonely as the woman, turns out to be the teen's father. The woman returns to the bus stop and continues to interact with the boy: Their conversation delves deeper into the boy's psyche, which in turn leads the characters physically deeper into the city of Kingston. The local setting is particularly vital to the unfolding drama, bleeding into the supernatural.
Tangent Theatre Artistic Director Michael Rhodes tells us there is definitely "a hardness to the characters," yet even the most confident of adolescents reveals his hidden vulnerability through small talk, evasions, and small giveaways while leading up to a dramatic turn in the action. "The Vandal" makes for an equally dark and comic journey of three lost souls dealing with life's hard blows, whose unexpected connections gradually melt away their frozen exteriors.
The play, which premiered last year off-Broadway at New York City's Flea Theater, is Hamish Linklater's first play. The production's popularity and acclaim added four weeks to its initial run. As an actor, Linklater has starred in countless Broadway, off-Broadway, and television productions, as well as movies. He was featured in Fantastic Four and Battleship, and currently plays Andrew Keanelly on CBS's "The Crazy Ones." He grew up in Great Barrington and the Berkshires, spending much time growing as an actor at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox. The playwright had family in Kingston and spent a lot of time there; his personal experiences in the area and "a hard period in his life" inspired the plot of "The Vandal."
Michael Rhodes, who will be playing the liquor store owner, expresses his excitement in staging the "electric" production for the first time since its off-Broadway debut. "It's something I haven't seen 100 times before. It made me excited enough to want to get off the couch and start sharing the story." The plot's elusive mystery will be sure to get audiences hooked: "You have an idea that something is up, but you don't know exactly where it's going." New York City-based actress Jill Van Note, who will perform the role of the widow, immediately identified "The Vandal" as a "Tangent kind of play" after seeing its original production. After witnessing the play, she tirelessly discussed the plot with her husband for an hour and a half on the subway. Rhodes describes a "Tangential" production as character driven. A simple premise lets us experience the personal journeys of the characters through their interactions; the play contains a "recognizable emotional honesty at the core that pulls you to the edge of your seat." Samuel Hoeksema, a New York City-based actor and recent college graduate, will complete the play's cast as the cunning teen.
"The Vandal" will be Tangent's main stage spring production. It usually takes place in May, but the crew purposely moved the date up two months to pair the play's chilly ambiance with March's biting weather. Between the local setting and the unforgiving winter we've had, "The Vandal" may be hard to distinguish from reality.
"The Vandal" will be presented at The Carpenter Shop Theatre in Tivoli. March 6-30, Thursdays through Sundays. (845) 230-7020; Tangent-arts.org.