Actor Hamish Linklater Comes Home As A Playwright
By Tresca Weinstein
Ever since he was a child cast in Shakespeare & Company productions (his mother was a founder of the troupe), actor Hamish Linklater (best known for his roles in the TV series The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Crazy Ones and The Newsroom) has loved to sink his teeth into juicy roles. So, in his first foray as a playwright, he set out to create the kind of characters he’d want to embody.
“I know as an actor what I like to do—talk a lot, have big speeches, rant and vent, be big hearted and bloody-minded, jokes—so that’s what I want to write for the actors in my plays,” he says.
Linklater’s The Vandal, onstage through March 30 at Tangent Theatre Company’s Carpenter Shop Theater in Tivoli, New York, focuses on three distinctive characters whose story arcs collide one cold night at a bus stop.
“I wanted to talk about death, a lot, but in a fun way, and the plot and people just kind of came out of that,” Linklater says. He set the play in Kingston, New York, a town he’s familiar with; he was born and raised in Berkshire County, and had relatives in the Hudson Valley.
“The city is so vivid to me, and it gave me my first play, so I’m really grateful to it,” he says.
On the night in question, an older woman (played by Jill Van Note, in photo right, with Michael Rhodes), on her way home from visiting a sick friend, encounters a young man (Samuel Hoeksema) who tries to charm her into buying him a beer at the nearby liquor store. The third point of the triangle is the owner of the liquor store, played by Rhodes—who is also the co-founder of Tangent with his wife, Andrea, and Keith Teller. The trio founded the company in 2000 in New York City, and relocated to Tivoli in 2009. Since then, Tangent has produced weighty fare such as John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
“I love the ideas explored in [The Vandal], the quiet struggles of these lost characters and their search for connection and meaning,” Rhodes says. The Tangent production, directed by Amy Lemon Olson, is the second for the play, which garnered praise during its debut run early last year at the Flea Theater in New York City, an off-Broadway mainstay.
Linklater is also a veteran stage and film actor whose credits range from Twelfth Night for Shakespeare in the Park to the 2005 superhero flick Fantastic Four. He was eight when his mother, Kristin, a Scottish-born dramatic vocal trainer and professor of theater, began casting him in Shakespeare & Company productions.
“They started putting me in the plays pretty young so my mom could save on babysitting—she’d always know where I was with an audience watching me,” Linklater jokes. “It was a great sort of commune of actors, so the theater and being around actors [has] always felt like home and family and where I want to be. It was a pretty great childhood growing up with all those plays.”
Writing is also in his blood: his grandfather, Eric Linklater, was a best-selling novelist in Britain; his uncle Magnus Linklater is a journalist; and another uncle, Andro, has written extensively on American and British history. Though Hamish didn’t grow up around that branch of the family (“My mom ran away from that to come to America,” he says), he majored in English at Amherst College before dropping out after a year to pursue acting.
“I wasn’t really encouraged as a writer in college… and it took a while to get my confidence up,” he says. “But finally I didn’t really [care] anymore, and that’s what The Vandal came out of.” (A stint on Broadway in 2012, playing a budding playwright opposite Alan Rickman in Seminar, might have helped him get in the right state of mind.)
The agenda for his work, Linklater says, isn’t too complicated: “I want the actors to have awesome stuff to say and I want an audience to have an awesome time.”
The Vandal (through March 30)
Tangent Theatre Company’s Carpenter Shop Theater
60 Broadway, Tivoli, NY
Thursdays–Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m.