LATHAM — There’s a bit of foreshadowing in the brief first scene of Victor L. Cahn’s taut and entertaining thriller “Fit to Kill.” Chess master Adrian Bonham (Knathan MacKenzie-Roy) is playing 15 games simultaneously, but he becomes distracted by a beautiful young woman, Amy Cortland (Laura Graver), and makes a bad chess move that he tries to take back. But he can’t.
And soon Amy and Janice Blake (Cristine Loffredo), who is Adrian’s wife, make him their pawn, with deadly results.
Actually, Adrian seems to be Janice’s plaything already, as we learn in scene ii. She returns from yet another business trip, and they have a familiar conversation: she boasts about her accomplishments as the female head of a fitness empire who makes all the money for their household; and he defends against her charge that he is financially useless by proclaiming his celebrity status and his sexual appeal.
Enter Amy, a young woman with ideas for how to get beyond this impasse. Hesitant at first, both Janice and Adrian are intrigued by her suggestions and soon find themselves plotting bold moves.
Cahn delivers a wallop of an ending to a play that features basically unlikable, scheming characters; clever twists and turns; and mordant humor: perfect ingredients for a show in the mold of — as UPI notes — “Deathtrap” and “Sleuth.”
The production at the new Curtain Call Theatre is directed by Steve Fletcher, who directed the world premiere precisely 15 years ago this month at the old Curtain Call Theatre. And what a technically glorious production this is. Andy Nice’s scenic design (executed by Peter Max) is stunning, a contemporary living room bespeaking the wealth and taste of the couple. Kelly Shi’s lighting design and Dianne O’Neill’s costume choices smartly underscore the characters’ personalities and the increasingly disturbing events (indeed, Act II takes place in the evening/night).
A special nod to Patrick LaChance’s evocative sound design, which begins with the lovely andante from Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor (music for three) and then gives way to increasingly dissonant and clamorous music. And John Quinan is the fine stage manager.
Fletcher has three strong actors with whom to work, and he deftly helps them pace the transformation of each character. MacKenzie-Roy’s Adrian is a somewhat passive man, observing before committing, looking for clues about what might be expected of him. Adrian then slowly, and credibly, changes to a panicky man who comes too late to an understanding of how the world works.
Amy is a step ahead of everyone, using her guile, her charms, her pathos to manipulate Janice and Adrian — and us. Graver’s portrayal is utterly chilling.
Loffredo’s Janice also seems up to any challenge, but this excellent actress shows us a disintegration of sorts. Polished and powerful in scene i, Janice soon becomes hesitant, querulous, and disorganized, so by the play’s climactic scene, the highly competent businesswoman seems simply to be getting by, from moment to moment.
“Fit to Kill” is a crackerjack script in a first-rate production.