The Vacancy Has Colorful Dialogue, But It's Not Clear What It's Trying to Say

Jonathan Cahill, Jeff Torres and Jack Littman in The VacancyEXPAND
Jonathan Cahill, Jeff Torres and Jack Littman in The Vacancy
Photo by Luca Loffredo

The Vacancy is one of those dark comedies that challenges you to figure out just what it’s trying to say.

Written and directed by Jeptha Storm, it features colorful dialogue and potentially vivid characters, neither of which quite make up for the question marks that mar the story. Still, Storm’s writing reflects an understanding of madness as a staple of the human condition, which may give the empathetic viewer something to relate to.

The play is set in an isolated motel in a woodsy area near the Washington-Canadian border where three shady characters wait impatiently for the arrival of their leader and idea man, the mysterious Dallas (Jeff Torres).

Vincent (Jonathan Cahill), the most voluble and volatile of the three, dominates the conversation with recollections of the opportunities he’s missed to make a financial killing. He especially regrets not getting in on the ground floor of a bear-fighting enterprise that’s garnered a fortune for the entrepreneurs who initiated it.

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His captive audience includes the marginally more intelligent Winston (Jack Littman) and Buck (Michael Kurtz), a relative novice in the bad-guy world who’s expected to follow orders and whose occasionally sensible ideas get consistently and emphatically shot down.

The room next door has been rented by a strange young couple: Howard (Toby Bryan), a superficially cheerful man whose strained amiability barely conceals his manipulative urges, and Lucy (Shayne Eastin), his psychologically fragile wife who is the unhappy object of her husband’s controlling impulses.

Toby Bryan, a clear standout in The VacancyEXPAND
Toby Bryan, a clear standout in The Vacancy
Photo by Luca Loffredo

When Dallas does arrive, his plans for scoring big are a big disappointment for his anxious henchmen. Reluctantly they follow his instructions to dispose of Howard. But this proves easier said than done, since Howard, despite his small frame and nerdy bowtie, turns out to be a much tougher customer than the hapless hoods imagined.

If they are surprised, however, we are not, since from the moment Bryan’s chirpy birdwatcher appears he projects an edgy dynamic. He's entertaining, yes, but with an underlying menace as pronounced as anything the hunky Dallas can put out.

A performance like this allows us to forget about missing details or a back story. When Bryan is on stage, the dramedy clicks.

The other performances need work. As Vincent, Cahill adopts a veneer of viciousness without ever seeming to explore the frustration that stirs his character to anger. Torres' intimidating posturing is credible but it stops there. Eastin likewise exudes a haunted air, but it's one-note.

The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; through Sept. 27. (323) 933-6944.

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