Theater Review by Beatrice Williams-Rude
We didn’t want it to stop! We were hooked.
“Villainous Company,” the latest work by the prolific Victor L. Cahn, is great fun. And no, the villainous company in the title does not refer to the CIA, although there are moments when it seems it might. Given the recent role of US intelligence agencies, one’s sympathy is initially with the subject of the surveillance. Initially.
This “caper for three women” is riveting and rife with laugh lines. In showing there is no honor among thieves, Cahn and Eric Parness, the splendid director, provide much merriment in dissecting their chicanery. If one steals from a thief, is it theft? The three women are Claire, competently played by Corey Tazmania; Tracy, effectively portrayed by Alice Bahlke; and Joanna, deliciously brought to life by Julia Campanelli.
“Villainous Company” begins with Claire’s arrival home from a shopping trip and her discovery that one of her purchases is missing. She’s still frustratedly on the phone with the store, being switched from extension to extension, when her doorbell rings and Tracy enters bearing the missing package. But she doesn’t want to leave and the drenching downpour seems only to be an excuse. As she examines the lovely furnishings in Claire’s home, it becomes increasingly apparent that she’s been observing Claire minutely for some time. But why?
And why is Claire reluctant to open the package Tracy has brought, which she’d been frantic to reclaim?
The two dance around one another, Tracy seemingly wanting information that Claire doesn’t want to provide, then revealing she already has the information. The conversation, at this point, has gone from calculatedly casual to somewhat threatening. During Claire’s examination of Tracy—making her disrobe to determine whether she’s “wearing a wire”– the elegant Joanna arrives.
A game of cat and mouse ensues but in the many twists and turns, it becomes difficult to distinguish cat from mouse. One moment Claire is a victim, one of the “little people who go to jail,” the next she’s triumphant, having been playing her own game all along. Tracy seems to be the winner, but what exactly has she won? The coolly manipulative Joanna seems to be in control, but control of what? Nothing is as it seems.
“Villainous Company” is a well-constructed play. Nowhere is this more evident than when the intermission comes—we want more. Everything fits. Nothing is extraneous. Actions bring reactions. Questions get answers but provoke more questions. We listen intently.
While the acting is uniformly excellent, special kudos are due Julia Campanelli, who could fit into a Noel Coward comedy.
The set, a suburban living room, is nicely done by Jennifer Varbalow. The appropriate costumes are by Brooke Cohen. Lighting is by Pamela Kupper and the sound design, including lovely pre-show music, is by Nick Simone.
The entire experience of attending this play can be summed up in one word: civilized. The work runs an hour and a half; there is a 10-minute intermission; the facilities are nearby; the theater is comfortable.
“Villainous Company” opens Monday, Jan. 12, at the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (Theatre Row) and runs through Jan. 31.