By Bill Hirschman
Writing a review of Primal Force’s Villainous Company, which has more plot twists than a Christmas corkscrew, is going to be hard because we wouldn’t dare to give away any spoilers.
Suffice it to say that nothing but nothing is what it seems and no one but no one is whom they seem – and there are layers under layers in this 80-minute chamber crime thriller.
But Victor L. Cahn’s ingenious intricate script might fall short in lesser hands. He is lucky to have three of the region’s most reliable actresses, Elizabeth Price, Rita Cole and Anna Lise Jensen, being paced by the capable director, Genie Croft.
We can try to set up the opening scenes. Claire (Price) is a beautiful coiffed and garbed woman you might see shopping at an upscale mall who comes home to a gorgeous apartment appointed with exquisite taste in art and artifacts. She is calling a shop because she thinks she has left one of her purchases there. But suddenly, arriving in the rain, is a low-level shop employee Tracy (Cole) who has brought the missing gift box.
Clearly, Claire wants to be polite and gracious, but Tracy keeps genially finagling her way into staying past what would be normal under the circumstances. Although both women are unfailing pleasant, giggling perfunctorily at each other witticisms in bright banter, Tracy invades Claire’s space and Claire tries to get her to leave with artificial veneers of social grace that neither woman means.
Slowly, we realize that Tracy has another agenda and with the most genial machinations manages to stay past her welcome. It becomes obvious to Claire that something is going on and she’s grows increasingly uneasy as Tracy becomes less deferential. As the power dynamic shifts between them, Claire and the audience become steadily more anxious.
As secrets are revealed, suddenly appearing is Claire’s friend Joanna (Jensen) a privileged pearls necklace and earrings Brahmin, the kind of cultured calm person all those Bravo Housewives wish they were.
We just can’t go much further, but trust us. The plot whirls inside itself to the point that audiences may get a tad lost if they are not paying close attention, especially in the end. But the dizzying sensation is the goal of the work, so just ride the whirlwind.
For the same reasons, it’s challenging to explain how what Croft and company do is so skilled other than their ability to keep the audience puzzled and maintain that three-handed cat-and-mouse tension. All the actresses are completely convincing as their secrets spill out and reveal somewhat different characters beneath, especially Cole whose evolution occurs credibly millimeter-by-millimeter before your eyes. Again, this wouldn’t work without the calibrated beat-by-beat direction of Croft.
A hat tip is due Dustin Hamilton’s design of the elegant apartment with mood lighting by Guy Haubrich, and Jerry Sturdefant’s dead perfect costumes.
Villainous Company from Primal Forces plays through Jan. 12 performing at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission. Tickets $40. (Special New Year’s Eve performance $50 includes champagne and cocktails) Visit primalforces.com or call 866-811-4111.