Vineyard Theatre’s “Sandra” Loses Its Way

Marjan Neshat stars in David Cale’s Sandra at the Vineyard Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The Off-Broadway Theatre Review: Vineyard Theatre’s Sandra

By Ross

Vanishing from life, that seems to be the thread that tries desperately to hold Sandra, a new one-woman theatrical piece at the usually more compelling Vineyard Theatre in Union Square, NYC, together. The idea is supposed to be spellbinding, as the woman at the center of this mystery begins to unwind her story in oppressive detail. She talks most desperately about her best friend, Ethan, a gay man, who has disappeared into the thin Puerto Vallarta air while vacationing and celebrating his 31st birthday in the beach town. It sounds like the beginnings of a good thriller, one that could draw us in as she dives headstrong into the dangerous currents of the Mexican resort town, trying to find the friend that seems, at first, to be the cornerstone of her existence.

But as the journey flies forward, Sandra, played well by Marjan Neshat (ATC’s English), seems to get sidetracked by her own desires. She flies back and forth, with an increasing urgency, so she tells us, to see if she can locate her friend. She enlists a friendly gay man named Beauford, quite casually, but eventually, the trips spiral off into something quite different. They become more about the sensual stranger named Luca and the seductive affair she has with him that pulls her hard into his troubled orbit.

Marjan Neshat stars in David Cale’s Sandra at the Vineyard Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

It all has the feeling of pulp fiction, and as written by David Cale, the telling of the tale loses its way, much like the teller. “We are in an imaginary movie right now,” she tells us, going through the story like a news reporter surveying the timeline. It’s straightforward, unlike Cale’s miraculously better Harry Clarke that also took over the stage at Vineyard. But this one-person show is less like a dream or an adventure. It flails about, as we watch her get sidetracked, seduced and taken on a dangerous ride, all the while sitting comfortably in that chair that makes up the out-of-place set by Rachel Hauck (Broadway’s HadestownHow I Learned to Drive), with lighting by Thom Weaver (RT’s Kingdom Come), costume design by Linda Cho (Broadway’s Anastasia), and sound design by Kathy Ruvuna (Rattlestick’s Ni Mi Madre).

She looks so comfortable, sitting in that room, yet we are supposed to be pulled in by this country-hopping tale of mystery and possible murder. Neshat works hard to find drama in the sequence of events laid out, but the play, like the main character, gets distracted by herself, her world, and a sexual awakening that engulfs her very presence, altering the mysterious view into something quiet different with very little nuance. The focal point keeps shifting, and as directed by Leigh Silverman (2ST’s Grand Horizons), too many unanswered questions are presented, and too many side roads are taken. What kind of story are we in fact listening to? An emotional psychological disappearing act? An erotic thriller? A murder mystery? But the answers remain elusive, much like the story’s point, as we make our way towards an ending that seems, or hopes, to sum up the whole with a symbolically simple construct. “I feel like disappearing from my life,” is the line that is supposed to resonate from beginning to end. It’s a too-tidy ending for such a messy unfocused tale, one that never fully embraces the idea presented. The final druggy confrontation packs an emotional punch, but not enough to keep us caring about Sandra, and everything else that happens after that one truly memorable moment.

Marjan Neshat in Sandra. Photo by Carol Roseg.

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