My mother shared her love of Murder Mysteries and Thrillers with me, when I was still quite young, so I have seen many. Many, many. She noticed so much I didn’t. At first. Certain foibles of the genre stand out to me. I have little patience for obvious contrivance, poorly drawn characters, over abundance of red-herrings, plot shifts for their own sake, implausible events. Such amateurish flaws are a sure indicator of yet another hack, drooling to exploit fans of the genre. When Agatha Christie had ten suspects for one murder (before this became the paradigm) you could be certain that each one was justified. She wasn’t just accessing a formula. Such is also the case with N. J. Crisp’s “Dangerous Obsession,” closing this weekend at Theatre Britain.
Needless to say I can’t reveal too much about the plot of Dangerous Obsession, but I can tell you this, film, television or theatre, it is one of the very best thrillers I have ever seen, and better than most. Crisp uses three characters : married couple Sally and Mark Driscoll, and John Barrett. John is a recent acquaintance from one of those schmoozy business gatherings that go all weekend long, where the liquor flows freely, and it’s mostly a blur. Sally doesn’t recognize John at first, when he shows up unannounced and uninvited, to pitch a business venture to Mark. Mark and Sally are obviously basking in high cotton, though not exactly living the dream. They’d probably be more annoyed with John (all things considered) but his demeanor is oddly charismatic. He’s vaguely melancholy, and his manners are flawless. Imagine gazing into the saddest snowglobe ever created.
All I can tell you is that Dangerous Obsession, like so many dramas with fairly simple premises, is dazzling in its cunning, chilling mastery. Crisp surprises, shocks, amuses and tortures us, but nothing is gratuitous, flagrant, cheesy or facile. Crisp plays with our sympathies. He takes his time, but he’s never self-indulgent. We’re never permitted to anticipate much beyond the characters themselves. Crisp’s narrative has so much to do with character study (with emptiness, despair, ennui, contempt) yet it’s irresistibly enervating and absorbing. One minute we’re drowning in the pain of failed humanity and the next we’re jumping off our seats. Dangerous Obsession transcends its genre and succeeds as imposing, unforgettable theatre. See it while you can.
Theatre Britain presents Dangerous Obsession, playing through February 28th, 2016. Cox Building Playhouse, 1517 H Avenue, Plano, Texas 75074. 972-490-4202. www.theatre-britain.com