An uplifting absurdist search for the meaning of life in Off-Broadway’s world premiere of ‘sandblasted’ at the Vineyard

For their return to live in-person performances after the long pandemic shutdown, Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre and WP Theater have teamed up for the world-premiere co-production of sandblasted. Written by Vineyard’s 2019 Paula Vogel Playwriting Award winner and WP Theater Lab alum Charly Evon Simpson, the highly entertaining post-modern take on finding the meaning of life brings humor and hope to the struggles of aging and healing, while celebrating the paramount value of human connection.

Marinda Anderson and Brittany Bellizeare. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

As with Samuel Beckett’s mid-century masterpiece Waiting for Godot, from which it takes its core inspiration, the engaging play combines elements of absurdism with existentialism, philosophy with psychology, science with speculation, happenstance with fate and magical realism. And Simpson’s rich genre-bending style alternates poetic passages and metaphor with conversations in realistic contemporary vernacular and direct address to the audience, as two women, Angela and Odessa, meet at a “place where the sand is,” stumble upon ads for an info-session by celebrity wellness guide Adah, and undertake a life-affirming journey through “now, after, and the future” to keep themselves from falling apart.

Directed with an over-the-top hilarious spirit of meaningful absurdity by Summer L. Williams in her NYC debut, the terrific cast is both amusing and affecting in delivering the distinctive personalities of the charming and likable characters, their range of emotions and concerns, and the impact they have on one another. They take us through a series of short shifting vignettes that are not always sequential but are universally relatable in the quintessential humanity of their quest to understand the big picture of our existence and “to stop the erosion, to stop us from turning to sand.”

Marinda Anderson, Rolonda Watts, and Brittany Bellizeare. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Brittany Bellizeare as Angela is at first neurotic and introverted (seeing herself more as a “safety cat” than a “scaredy cat” – a telling example of Simpson’s witty writing) in contrast with Marinda Anderson’s Odessa (also the name of a city and center of tourism in Ukraine), who outwardly appears self-assured and brave in her determination to enjoy life to the fullest while she can, not waiting. But as they form a bond, and move back and forth in time, each begins to display more of the other’s traits, as Angela becomes increasingly open and joyous, and Odessa more anxiety-ridden and troubled.

As Adah, the woman they hope can lead them, Rolonda Watts brings the wisdom of age and experience (or “the epitome of Black girl magic”) to her more mature role, admitting that she doesn’t really have any answers or the cure . . . but you never know (the character is named after the playwright’s late aunt, whose voice and example, along with those of her late grandmother Maud and aunt Louise, and her mother Stephanie, continue to teach her). Rounding out the winning cast is Andy Lucien as Angela’s brother Jamal, bringing a decidedly younger male perspective and appealing support to the women’s story.

Brittany Bellizeare and Andy Lucien. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Set on a stage featuring 35,000 pounds of sand, three doorways around the spherical enclosure, and a sky filled with fluffy clouds above (scenic design by Matt Saunders), the artistic design of the play is in perfect conformity with the existentialist theme of our earthly life. Lighting by Stacey Derosier and sound by Sadah Espii Proctor underscore the characters’ shifting moods, with costumes by Montana Levi Blanco and hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan that define them. And especially significant in the metaphorical representation of the women “falling apart” are darkly comical props (with supervision by Matthew Frew) that heighten both their fear of aging and death and the laugh-out-loud absurdism of the work.

This inventive and ultimately affirming rumination will leave you feeling optimistic, with the realization that sometimes a hug, a smile, and a song sung in harmony are all you really need to keep it together on the path of life. It seems like so little, but that connection to others can mean so much.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, without intermission.

sandblasted plays through Sunday, March 13, at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, NYC. For tickets (starting at $82.95, with a limited number of Community Supported seats available at each performance for $26.95), go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a photo ID to enter the building and must wear a mask inside.


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