Reading another person is much harder than any book.
This deepens the intrigue of “The Vandal,” a play by Hamish Linklater that was well regarded in its introduction off-off-Broadway in 2013 and is being given its West Coast premiere by the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
A woman is waiting for a bus at night when a young man of about 17 approaches and begins talking. She’s on the young side of middle age, tastefully but not expensively dressed. He wears a black puffer coat with the hood up, which makes him look sinister despite his clean-cut appearance. He says he’s just come from a nearby graveyard, then proceeds to matter-of-factly describe all of the ways by which young people he’s known have died.
What unfolds from there is somewhat eerie but also amusing and, finally, poignant. Lasting just more than 70 minutes, the play feels slight, yet its philosophy and raw humanity worm themselves deep into viewers’ minds.
Linklater is an actor known for such TV shows as “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Legion.” Not far from the Chance, he has performed at South Coast Repertory, including the title role in “Hamlet” in 2007.
Here, he has written vividly for actors, and the Chance’s cast, directed by Kari Hayter (whose work for the company includes an outstanding “Parade” in 2017 and “Violet” last year), brings the story to luminous life.
As the woman, Amanda Zarr is stingy with smiles, as wary of the world as she is weary of it. Sam Bullington as the young man speaks woodenly at first but quickly warms to animated conversation, especially when trying to convince her to buy him a beer.
He sits too close. Is he coming on or just trying to connect? Some of what he says doesn’t add up — or does it? Same for her.
The situation gets still murkier when the woman, against her better judgment, heads off to buy that beer and finds herself being cross-examined by Robert Foran, playing the store’s owner.
Cruel experience has deadened all three characters, and death keeps working its way into their conversations. (“It happens all the time, everywhere,” the young man says, more familiar with it than he should be at his age.) Each will have to studiously read the others to find a way back to life.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends Oct. 27 (3 p.m. only on Oct. 26)
Info: (888) 455-4212, ChanceTheater.com
Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes