Panic is the perfect example of a slow burn thriller. Act One: We meet the characters, get a good handle on their relationships and, once settled in, throw a wrench into the works, letting the gears slowly, but surly stop turning. Act Two: We see the characters reacting to the machine breaking down to the point of explosion. In a live theatrical setting, the audience can't run and make popcorn while the action is unfolding or pause it to run to the bathroom. All that tension can do is build until they're almost begging for release.
Panic by Joseph Goodrich is very precise about what it wants to share with the audience and is in no hurry to get there, so when the fit hits the shan, it is exhilarating.
The play takes place in a luxurious Parisian hotel in 1963 as a world famous American filmmaker, his wife and his secretary arrive to premiere his latest film. A mysterious Frenchwoman shows up unannounced while the secretary is alone to demand payment in exchange for evidence she has against the director. The elements combine to create a thematically rich revenge fantasy thriller that should have audiences gripping their seats in suspense.
While all of the actors are well cast, it's Skye Stafford as the secretary and Tori Miller as the Frenchwoman that connect the most. Miller manages to take a role that could easily fold into a clichéd femme fatale and makes her flawed, dynamic and relatable; a likeable woman barely hanging in there. There are four or five layers Miller has to play simultaneously, and she does remarkable work, mostly in her haunted and expressive eyes.
Meanwhile, Stafford is one of the finest actresses locally, but in Panic she proves something decidedly larger: Her performance is major league quality. She carries the show on her astoundingly singular ability to play emotional vulnerability, yet with a hardened core, which gives the character a push-and-pull.
It can be tough to pull off a slow burn thriller, but Panic does so with aplomb.
Shows October 10 through 25
Cascades Theatrical Company, 148 NW Greenwood Ave.
$13-20. Tickets at cascadestheatrical.org