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A CurtainUp Review
Villainous Company

Why is this so difficult to grasp? My job is to find beautiful things. Then I arrange to have them sold. Is that a problem? .— Joanna
Alice Bahlke & Julia Campanelli(Photo: Hunter Canning)
Victor L. Cahn's Villainous Company at Theatre Row is a fine cat-and-mouse caper with a twist of villainy. Although it has some flaws in its script, it will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

The scenario revolves around three attractive and ambitious women: Claire, a retired bookkeeper in her 40s, who lives in an elegant suburban home. . . art dealer Joanna, also in her 40s, who is a long-time friend of Claire's. . . a spunky undercover detective named Tracy who's in her 30s.

As the play opens, it's a rainy autumn afternoon and Claire is returning home from shopping. Finding one of her packages missing she tries to contact the store to locate its whereabouts but is interrupted by an unexpected visitor ringing her front door bell. Posturing as a Good Samaritan, Tracy has Claire's missing package in hand and tells her that she is simply "trying to live up" to their store's motto of "Let our home help your home." Relieved, Claire invites Tracy in and the two exchange small talk until Tracy directs their conversation to the subject of "petty theft" and "other things" at the outlet center. Their tete-a-tete gets even darker when Tracy reveals that she's an undercover detective who has been "tailing" Claire for some time. With her assumed identity dropped, and Claire now realizing that Tracy is attempting to "make a case" on her, she becomes wary of her guest and puts her guard up. In a few beats, Joanna arrives on the scene. And the cat-and-mouse game begins in earnest, with each struggling to get two steps ahead of the other.

Villainous Company is salt-and-peppered with larceny and trickery. It points up detective operations and how they gain traction in our American society. Before it's over, each of the women will at some point find that the cat has got her tongue. Expect tables to be turned here, and all to be caught with their hands soiled.

Although it's certainly intriguing, and has moments that are downright scary, the play isn't always plausible in its hairpin twists-and-turns. Okay, it's hardly surprising that Claire suspects that Tracy might be concealing a wire on her person. But for Claire to ask Tracy to strip down to her underwear from the waist up, and for Tracy to comply without a blink, seems far-fetched. The play also doesn't paint the art world with a lot of verisimilitude. The friend who accompanied me to the show is an antique buff was unconvinced by the play's broad strokes or spin on the business.

Director Eric Parness manages to keep things moving at a brisk pace. Jennifer Varbalow's set is tasteful without being ostentatious, and Pamela Kupper's lighting washes the stage with just enough light. Brooke Cohen provide a smartly designed a power suit for Joanna but a pair of hip-hugging pants for Claire that are unflattering and clash with her chic image.

All three actresses play their villainous ladies with panache. Corey Tazmania, as Claire, is the personification of a suburbanite women with upward mobility in mind. Julia Campanelli inhabits the cosmopolitan Joanna with the right authoritative air. And Alice Bahlke's Tracy is spot-on as an undercover detective who goes for the jugular.

If its dramaturgy doesn't totally hold-up to scrutiny, Villainous Company serves up some delicious theatrical catnip. And it surely gives one a pungent taste of our surveillance culture.

Villainous Company by Victor L. Cahn
Directed by Eric Parness
Cast: Alice Bahike (Tracy), Julia Campanelli (Joanna), and Corey Tazmania (Claire).
Sets: Jennifer Varbalow
Costumes: Brooke Cohen
Sound: Nick Simone
Lighting: Pamela Kupper
Fight Director: Joseph Travers
Stage Manager: Sean McCain
Theatre Row (at the Clurman Theatre) at 410 West 42nd. Street. Tickets: $19.25. Phone 212/239-6200 or online at
From 1/09/15; opening 1/12/15; closing 1/31/15.
Thursday through Saturday @ 8pm; Sunday matinee @ 3pm; added performance on Wednesday, 1/28 @ 8pm.
Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/10/15
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