Tympanic Theatre Company and the side project. By Dan Caffrey. Directed by Aaron Henrickson. With ensemble cast. 1hr 20mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
Sandalwood’s story drifts in through the dust of the desert, coated in the serious side of Western tropes and the ghost stories of the frontier. A nameless father (Sean Thomas) tracks his seemingly supernatural son (Anthony Stamilio) through a trail of slaughter and deconstruction. And that’s all there is to it. Dan Caffrey's new work is a focused production, restrained to a handful of scenes backed by a continuous soundscape to hold its audience firmly in the wasteland.
Through encounters with mad whores, dead bodies and ravaged maids, Sandalwood asks whether the quiet, laggard father has an evil within himself that he passed to the son he made. Answers are not forthcoming; the spiritual progression of the tale can be lost in its die-hard simplicity and 1000-yard-stare dialogue, in which characters seem to speak to themselves when talking to others. Yet this echoing, inexplicable quality is also the play’s strength. Tympanic maintains precise control of Sandalwood’s strangeness, and it sells you on its Pinocchio-horror-Western style with ease. At best it feels like a subversive yarn a depressedly drunk cowboy would spin around a fire long after the party ended. The play’s symbolism is frustratingly both obvious and unclear, yet its story still gets under the skin in subtle ways.
And like a proper Western, the violence is colorful and dramatic without feeling important. The whole performance is color and shadows and some great sound effects. It makes up for the father, who as written is too morose, too apologetic and too distant. He’s just like his surroundings, a ghostly half-human with style but no heart. That’s the other key half of the Western that’s not in Sandalwood: the immediacy of a drawn gun. Everything can feel a bit far away, even when shots are fired, and the play could pick up the pace by ten to 15 minutes. But at the end of the day Sandalwood remains a worthy experience that brings, albeit imperfectly, a new twist to an old genre.