Epic Theatre’s Company’s Total Strangers is essentially a remake of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, Strangers on a Train. The major change writer/director Kevin Broccoli made was switching the genders of the two main characters from male to female.
Beth (Kelly McCabe) takes a seat next to Georgia (Hannah Lum) on a train in New York City. Georgia is an unhappily married college professor who also is having an affair with one of her students. Beth is a “rich bitch” who is after money. Her brother Eddie was left in control of their late father’s company and she resents him for it. Beth proposes an arrangement with Georgia: She will kill Georgia’s husband and in exchange, Georgia will kill her brother. Then their problems will be solved. “It’s perfect,” Beth says, noting no one would ever suspect them of committing the murders.
Georgia’s husband turns up dead not long after and Beth threatens to implicate Georgia in the crime unless she fulfills her end of the deal. But who’s manipulating whom?
Now I need to tread carefully because the story has lots of twists and turns. In the director’s notes, Broccoli claims “everybody lies” in Total Strangers. That’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but there is plenty of duplicity on display. Beth and Georgia aren’t exactly great role models for today’s women.
This all could have been played as camp, yet Broccoli takes a serious approach to the material save for some acerbic dialogue. The pacing is tight and the tension escalates as more and more secrets are revealed.
Both lead actresses contribute much to the success of the production. McCabe is chilling to watch as Beth schemes to get what she wants. She’s alternately seductive and menacing as she floats theories about man’s dark hidden nature. Lum, a solemn-faced beauty, gives Georgia lots of nuance as various facets of her personality are revealed. This is a woman who is much smarter and disturbed than she appears to be. Justin Pimentel, as Georgia’s lovestruck beau, Andy, and Mike Petrarca as Eddie, were also quite effective in their roles. I also enjoyed Kate Lester as a detective who shadows Beth and Georgia. Lester has a lot of fun with the character, who tries to outwit the two women.
Total Strangers is a solid piece of work and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
Total Strangers runs through May 21. Theatre 82, 82 Rolfe Square, Cranston. For tickets, go to www.epictheatreri.org or www.artists-exchange.org.