Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: 'Villainous Company: A Caper for Three Women' at NJ Rep

Corey Tazmania, Pheonix Vaughn and Melissa Macleod Herion (photo Suzanne Barabas)


Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney

New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch, NJ

“O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling, damn├Ęd villain!” ~ HAMLET, Act I Scene 5

Of course, Shakespeare was writing about devious Queen Gertrude, but the description might well apply to all three characters in Victor L. Cahn's new play, VILLAINOUS COMPANY: A CAPER FOR THREE WOMEN now playing at NJ Rep. 

While the venerable Long Branch theatre generally births brand new works, Cahn's play is only new to the Garden State, having been seen early last year on New York's Theatre Row. There's even a cast member held over from the off-Broadway outing, albeit in a different role.

The story begins with a happy, smiling Claire (Pheonix Vaughn) returning to her sleek suburban home after a day of shopping when she suddenly realizes one of her packages is missing. Before she can get off the phone with the store, Tracy (Melissa Macleod Herion), a staff member from the shop, appears at her doorstep with the item in tow. Much to Claire's chagrin, Tracy quickly insinuates herself into her home, at first under the pretense of getting in out of the rain, then admiring Claire's meticulously displayed object d'art. It soon becomes increasingly clear that Tracy's mission was not simply to return Claire's package. 

Accusations of theft, smuggling, and larceny ensue, even dragging Claire's close friend Joanna into the allegations. It isn't long before Joanna (Corey Tazmania) shows up on Claire's doorstep, completing the villainous company. All three women's painted smiles fade as the plot takes several twists and turns before the ultimate reversal. One of the women ends up smiling again by the final (metaphorical) curtain, but to say too much would spoil the fun of Cahn's 85-minute caper.

Thanks to director SuzAnne Barabas things move along swiftly enough, although not always as convincingly. Cahn's play is built on some pretty implausible logic. You can sense the playwright trying to make his criminal toboggan ride conclude the way he outlined it on paper, despite the characters' lapse in common sense behavior. The cast certainly does amazing work toward making the incredible seem credible. Attractive and impressively talented, each is perfectly suited to their roles in the treacherous trio. Once or twice a moment of overplayed subtext threatens to tip the author's hand about the next hairpin turn, but patrons paying close attention will feel rewarded when the twist finally arrives.

As usual, NJ Rep outfits Cahn's play with exquisite production values; for my money the best on either side of the Hudson. At first, Claire's pristine white living room lined with shelves of glittering collectibles made me think the play might be set in a gallery. The vault-like front door (complete with keypad security system) makes the room resemble the lair of one of Batman's arch villains [tilt your head and squint]. A spotlit wall clock implies that the characters might somehow be racing against time to complete their caper, but this, like the set itself, proves more style than substance. A suitably symbolic thunderstorm with flashes of lightning gives Jill Nagle's lighting design something to do and Patricia E. Doherty's spot-on costumes nicely contribute to the characters' financial status. Joanna's stylish black cowl-collared raincoat made this reviewer smile with envy. As Shakespeare reminds us “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Well, at least I'm in good (villainous) company. 

VILLAINOUS COMPANY continues performances at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey, through June 5. For tickets and information call 732.229.3166 or visit
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