Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Julia Campanelli, Corey Tazmania, and Alice Bahlke
Photo by Hunter Canning

The subtitle of Victor L. Cahn’s clever and entertaining new play Villainous Company, now on view at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, says it all:  “A caper for three women.” A caper it truly is, bringing to mind two similarly clever and entertaining plays from the 1970s—Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth (1970), and Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (1978)as well as the classic caper movie Charade from 1963. Not shabby company to be in, by any means.   

Villainous Company opens on the fashionably furnished living room in the home of Claire (Corey Tazmania), a middle-aged woman of style and taste. Claire has just come in from the rain, carefully stored her designer umbrella in its stand, and removed her shoes before moving into the living area. She has returned from a shopping trip and is going through her packages when she discovers that one is missing. Puzzled, she places a call to the shop, but while waiting for a response, someone comes knocking at the door. It is Tracy (Alice Bahlke), one of the store’s employees, who has the wayward package with her. 

While Claire would be all too happy to thank Tracy, give her a tip, and send her on her merry way, her caller rather insists on coming in to warm up and have a little chat. We can see that Claire is uncomfortable with having the effusive clerk, wet from the rain and dressed in denim, enter her polished sanctuary, but noblesse oblige and all that, and so she reluctantly invites her in and offers refreshment. 

At first, it is not at all clear what Tracy really wants, or why Claire doesn’t just insist on showing her the door. Speculate as much as you wish, the playwright will toy with you until he is good and ready to reveal all, just as he does by withholding the opening of the newly arrived package. Be patient. Villainous Company is like an extended game of Clue, in which the players sift through various pieces of information until someone concludes—as one of the characters in this play jokingly says—that the guilty party is “Colonel Mustard in the library.”  

As it turns out, Tracy is not a clerk but a security officer, and she has had an eye on Claire, and Claire’s friend Joanna (Julia Campanelli), for some time. She has been compiling a set of clues that she believes suggests the pair is up to some serious larceny. 

As Tracy starts to make her case to Claire, you don’t know what to think. It all sounds rather Kafkaesque and based on the wildest of speculation. Yet in Act II, when the far more worldly and manipulative Joanna shows up and appraises the situation, you know something not entirely kosher is going on. The three women wind up vying for control of the situation as the pieces fall into place, until you can no longer tell the cats from the mice.  

No more revelations from me, but the twists and turns in the plot, along with splendid acting by the three women under Eric Parness’s polished direction, make for a delectable evening that places the notion of “honor among thieves” in a classy suburban environment and keeps us guessing until the very end. Praise, too, goes to Brooke Cohen for her perfect costumes that fit the characters to a T and to Jennifer Varbalow for her evocative set design. The cats and the mice are having a fine old time up on stage, and, from a safe distance, so is the audience.

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