It’s a chilly night at a bus stop near a cemetery where two strangers — a chatty teenage boy and a reclusive middle-aged woman — meet for a life-changing engagement. Sound intriguing?
That would be putting it mildly. “The Vandal,” Hamish Linklater’s 100-minute mind-bending exercise, is a compelling adventure through a surreal world at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
These strangers — or are they really strangers? — engage in a conversation that builds into a confrontation, ultimately involving a local merchant. The three characters strive to separate fact from fiction as they probe into one another’s lives.
Director Kari Hayter has injected the production with a keen sense of human need, loss and desire as she moves the story gradually along an uncharted road. Each new revelation contains a throat-catching element that allows playgoers to view these characters in a different light.
All three actors are excellent, but Amanda Zarr delivers an especially outstanding performance as the woman, initially shrouded in mystery, who — under the influence of beer and hard liquor — sheds her hard veneer along with her inhibitions. Zarr excels in the most difficult and challenging assignment as she interacts, alternately, with the other two performers.
Sam Bullington commands attention early on as the loquacious young man who spins an improbable tale meant to engage the woman, who’d prefer to be left alone, into conversation. He’s initially reminiscent of Jerry in Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” spewing out a seemingly endless monologue.
The third character is a comparatively simple grocery store owner drawn into the plot by the assumption that the youth is his estranged son. Robert Foran brings an air of authenticity to his well-crafted performance.
Their story is played out against an impressively realistic hillside backdrop designed by Joe Holbrook. Fine sound and lighting effects are contributed, respectively, by Cricket S. Myers and Nick Van Houten.
One minor flaw in an otherwise compelling play is the apparent absence of a resolution at the end. By then, playgoers have been fed so many conflicting versions of exposition that they may not know which, or whom, to believe. Yet they almost certainly will have been moved.
“The Vandal” is a West Coast premiere written by actor Hamish Linklater who played the title role in “Hamlet” for South Coast Repertory a few seasons ago. It’s his first turn as a playwright and one that must be judged a rousing, if troubling, success.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Vandal”
Where: Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through Oct. 27
Cost: $20 to $39
Information: (888) 455-4212 or ChanceTheater.com