If you’ve ever eaten a Cool Ranch Dorito — or any Dorito, for that matter — you probably haven’t thought much about its metaphorical meaning. But Hamish Linklater has. In his fascinatingly quirky drama The Vandal — now playing through Feb. 17 at Off Broadway’s The Flea — the actor-turned-playwright spends a good five minutes speculating just what the crunchy chips and their powdery residue represent. My personal favorite theory: The Dorito is life, ”the flavor dust our dreams, the fingers reality, they moosh together, and then your mouth is like death.”
Because all this comes from the mouth a loquacious, hyper-intelligent 17-year-old character, it’s completely realistic. And because that endearingly geeky character (named, simply, Boy) is played by the extraordinarily versatile young actor-to-watch Noah Robbins — his last Off Broadway role was as a Jewish would-be author jailed in Stalin-era Russia in The Twenty-Seventh Man — it’s almost even believable. Seriously — Robbins should take that Doritos spiel on the road.
The significance of triangle-shape snacks, however, isn’t the only mystery hovering over The Vandal. Are Boy and Woman (Circle Mirror Transformation’s Deirdre O’Connell) truly strangers when they meet at the Godot-like bus stop? Is there really an intersection in Kingston, N.Y., that houses a hospital, cemetery, and liquor store — a geographical (and dramaturgical) jackpot if ever there was one? And is liquor store owner Man (Zach Grenier, best known as sleazy lawyer David Lee on The Good Wife) the last retailer in New York City who uses an adding machine and a phone book?
In his first fully produced play, Linklater (who starred in Broadway’s Seminar and TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine) demonstrates a Conor McPherson?esque way with spinning stories and a remarkable, all-too-rare willingness to take risks. His graveyard scene isn’t as tidy as the others; once the focus moves to Woman, her backstory proves less than engrossing, despite O’Connell’s best woman-on-the-verge-of-a-Jim-Beam-breakdown portrayal. But, oh — the payoff! It’s all that and a bag of Doritos. B+
(Tickets: TheFlea.org or 212-226-2407)