“Villainous Company” at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre (Closed January 31, 2015)

January 16, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags: ,
By Victor L. Cahn
Directed by Eric Parness
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is a special kind of merriment in a mystery play, and no, I’m not talking about Medieval liturgical drama. A mystery play lives and dies by the intensifying of suspense, the genius of its plot, and the brilliance of its characters always being ever-so-enjoyably one step ahead (or behind) the rest of us. The theatrical equivalent of Sudoku, it’s a risky enterprise, though, as a bad caper struggles to find any sort of aesthetic whatsoever.

Victor L. Cahn’s “Villainous Company” revolves around Claire, a bourgeois antique enthusiast. Her quiet day is interrupted by Tracy, who returns an ominous package Claire left at the outlet mall. As the play goes on, it’s revealed that Tracy is not all she seems, as she proceeds to investigate Claire for an unspecified crime.

The biggest kink in “Villainous Company” is hardly a mystery. The dialogue is so blatant and clinical, the play cannot accrue a shadow of nuance. While such indelicacies could be forgivable in a play that must move quickly, half the show is spent on Tracy accusing Claire, and Claire in turn responding how comically ridiculous it all sounds. Over. And over. And over again.

Eric Parness has his work cut out for him enlivening the tedious scene work. For the most part he succeeds, in no small part due to Alice Bahlke, who brings vitality and predatory joy to the stage as Tracy. Bahlke demonstrates cunning instincts as a performer. I would be curious to see what she could do with an Ophelia or Thomasina. Lead actress Corey Tazmania is another matter. Her bumblebee bustle and foppish demeanor as Claire are perplexing, unendearing, and robotic. (Not to mention the quasi-British accent she and fellow actress Julia Campanelli insist on employing for no visible purpose)

Though “Villainous Company” is billed as ‘A Caper for Three Women’, it doesn’t take a sleuth to deduce the play was penned by a masculine brain with certain neanderthalic tendencies. The attractive investigator is stripped searched to her skivvies for no rational reason other than show off her curves. Though rationality is an unwelcome guest in this world, as there are enough holes in the plot to test even the most forgiving of disbelief-suspenders.

I admit Cahn is capable of entertaining twists. There is a rather delightful one at the very end involving an inconsistency with a pair of pecan salads, but it comes after two rather foreseeable non-twists that have already poisoned the twist reservoir. For all the intriguing turns, “Villainous Company” is a hodgepodge of interesting reveals that forgets to wrap a play around them.