written by LIZA MITCHELL

The All Beaches Experimental Theatre continues its run of Hamish Linklater’s The Vandal, which features three characters all in the depths of their own darkness coming together in an unexpected way.

Under the direction of Caryl Butterley, The Vandal is a short play clocking in just under 80 minutes with no intermission to preserve the continuity. The dark comedy builds gradually, like a slow crawl up a steep hill only to discover a sharp, yet not unwelcome, turn.

The Woman, a decidedly stoic Cher Davis making her ABET debut, burrows deeper in her coat to fend off the cold and the unsolicited conversation from the Boy, a gregarious and intense Austin Kelly. He launches into rapid-fire diatribe on the stop’s proximity to the hospital and a cemetery. She tells him she’s just come from visiting a friend at the hospital. He’s ambled down from visiting a friend’s grave. The neon sign of a nearby liquor store completes the trifecta of the “dying, the dead and the drunk.”

Kelly’s Boy espouses the tragic deaths to befall many of the student’s in his high school; heroin overdose, suicide and a car crash on an icy morning. An expectant mother on her way to deliver new life into the world must pass the graveyard, casting a dark cloud over the joyous occasion. It isn’t fair but it’s up to us to choose life, life, LIFE.

It isn’t fair but it’s up to us to choose life, life, LIFE.

As he continues to needle the Woman, she slowly thaws under his charming barrage of idiosyncratic behaviors. Though she initially protests, she agrees to buy him beer. Things take a turn in a bizarre encounter with the liquor store owner who reveals that the teenage boy is his son, who often coaxes people to purchase alcohol for him.

The Woman clings tightly to her narrative. She’s buying the beer for herself and has no information about this kid who sends strangers to do his bidding. But her story doesn’t add up and she finds herself sharing a painful truth to protect her secret. The storekeeper softens, sending her on her way with the beer and a bag of his son’s favorite Cool Ranch Doritos.

As the Boy, Kelly navigates a mountain of dialogue. He swings wildly between the sullen energy of a brooding teenager to the unpredictability of a strange teenager invading the personal space of a broken woman alone in her own grief.

Davis undergoes the most significant transformation which makes sense as she’s the one character on stage throughout the duration of the play. She achieves the delicate balance of protecting herself from the strange young man to embracing the freedom of facing her own demons. She going through the motions, dragging along rock bottom where her hope and will to live has settled like silt.

Rounding out the trio is Kevin Bodge as Man. He comes off as belligerent and aggressive, quick to levy threats and accusations that belie a painful undercurrent. His phantom-like suffering takes many shapes before revealing its true essence. Bodge delivers a heartfelt performance with a vulnerability that audiences will root for.

This is true with The Vandal. It doesn’t work especially hard to explain what’s happening. Audiences won’t experience a real sense of urgency either. Unlike the breathless anticipation of a jump scare, this intense and captivating tale creeps along at just the right pace and gives us what we didn’t even know we needed at just the right moment. It’s the perfect show for Halloween.

This intense and captivating tale creeps along at just the right pace and gives us what we didn’t even know we needed at just the right moment.

But the big reveal isn’t the story’s biggest selling point. It’s the shared need for human connection and the magic that happens during the little moments when we open up about ourselves and in some cases, to ourselves.

People are not always the image they present to the world. Sometimes they’re exactly who they claim to be. It’s the imperfections that make us human. Even in our darkest times, a glimmering strand of humanity is all the hope we need to find peace.