by Ron Cohen · January 16, 2015
Cast photo | Hunter Canning
There’s the kernel of a potentially gripping thriller in Victor L. Cahn’s Villainous Company, but as viewed the other night at Theatre Row‘s Clurman Theatre it comes across more as an exercise in plotting rather than a fully developed play.
Aptly subtitled as “a caper for three woman,” the piece takes place in the living room of Claire, who has just returned from an afternoon of shopping at an outlet center. She has left one of her purchases behind, and soon a woman from the store, Tracy, arrives in the midst of a rainstorm with the package. But Tracy’s peculiarly forward manner and insistent questioning about Claire’s finances and other matters indicate she has more on her mind than good customer service. Indeed, we learn quickly that Tracy works for a security agency investigating nefarious goings-on at the center. Claire has long been under her surveillance, and when Claire’s friend Joanna enters the scene at the end of Act One, it leads to further questions and revelations in Act Two; the twists keep coming until the final blackout.
The problem for me was that the I never learned enough about these women to be really interested in them, much less care about them. They seemed to be merely pawns for an extremely complicated story line. However, that, according to an interview with Cahn in the play’s press material, was the playwright’s deliberate choice.
“I wanted to write a play in the film noir tradition, but with a unique all-female cast. I also wanted these women to be entirely independent from men, and without any stereotypical ‘feminine’ priorities,” Cahn is quoted as saying. “Therefore the characters never mention romance or family. Rather as they scheme, they are devoted exclusively to power and profit.”
It’s a choice that kept me quite removed from the proceedings. The script also suggests some deeper themes, such as the dangerous gap between the haves and the have-nots, but these themes, like the motivations of the characters, are left unexplored.
Under Eric Parness’s direction, the production offers a straightforward rendering of Cahn’s scenario. The three women ably portray the tension that arises between them, but they also seem locked for the most part into contrasting characterizations that rapidly become predictable. Alice Bahlke masks Tracy’s cop-like interrogation with a persistent unctuous smile, while Corey Tazmania’s Claire answers questions with a steely reserve. Julia Campanelli as Joanna deflects queries with a glib hauteur.
If you like twisty plots simply for the sake of twisty plots, you may be well held in thrall by Villainous Company, but I wouldn’t expect to be moved or even enlightened about the criminal tendencies of human beings.