Entertainment :: Theatre

Veronica's Room
by Christopher Soden
EDGE Contributor
Friday Nov 7, 2008

Rover Dramawerks presents "Shakespeare in Hollywood";

I'm not sure how easy it will be to discuss Rover Dramawerk's current production of Veronica's Room without giving away vital information but I'll try. No doubt many of you will recognize the name of the late playwright, Ira Levin, best known for novels such as "Rosemary's Baby," "A Kiss Before Dying," "The Stepford Wives" and "The Boys from Brazil." Stephen King described him as "the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels," making other writers in the genre look like "cheap watchmakers in drugstores."

Levin also enjoyed a successful career as a playwright with such hits as "No Time for Sergeants," "Critic's Choice" and "Deathtrap." For good or ill, Levin knew how to captivate and keep an audience entertained. Every piece he wrote was not a slam dunk, but he cared enough about his craft to take risks and meander from traditional content if not approach.

Such is the case with "Veronica's Room," a revisionist Gothic thriller that opened on Broadway in 1973. Like so many of this genre, it's predicated on the suspicion that degeneracy and the shattering of taboos are just as likely to occur in the secluded realms of conservative hamlets as the shadowy lairs of the urban jungle. (Classics of this ilk include: William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," Carson McCullers'"Reflections in a Golden Eye" and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery.") Ira Levin's familiar elements of female oppression and the quaint couple with insidious intent are also present. This isn't necessarily a negative aspect, it's not uncommon for great writers to explore a single theme throughout their careers.

Terrie W. Justus, in the demanding role of the wife, is powerful, fluid and understated. Justus has managed a bravura turn, and will definitely get under your skin.

When we consider the multitude of thrillers and murder mysteries available and the long, familiar traditions tied to this discipline I think it's pretty safe to propose a rule of thumb. The best stories of this sort keep us intrigued with as little apparent contrivance as possible. They maintain a meticulous balance between disclosure and evasion. Between the unthinkable and the implausible. The young couple in "Veronica's Room" are lured to an old house to participate in a charade and while the reasons they are given are vaguely creepy, curiosity trumps their better judgment. The offer of money (or the lack thereof) is never raised, which I think is a mistake. For all their graciousness the elderly couple making the offer seem a bit loopy, but innocuous enough. Struck by the resemblance, they convince her to play Veronica, dressing in the clothes of the prematurely departed young girl, to comfort a delusional sibling who believes she is still in the 1920's.

There are very few clues in the first act to prepare us for what will occur in the second (though generally speaking, surprises are great). A lot of what happens in the second act makes more sense in retrospect than immediately after the lights come back up. The explanation for the chilling events that transpire has a certain logic to it that feels perhaps more cerebral than intuitive. "Veronica's Room" is absorbing, no doubt, and reasonably viable though Levin may have been too Byzantine or coy. In a thriller, it's a given that things are rarely as they appear, but consider the strength of a comparable play, say, Sam Shepard's "Buried Child" or Pinter's "The Collection," that don't rely so much on intricacy.

Still, "Veronica's Room" is an exceptionally well realized production, and if Levin's not always at the top of his game here, there is more than enough to amuse and involve the avid theatergoer or mystery fan. Rover Dramawerks has always shown great vision and panache in their choice of shows, consistently staging plays that challenge us to participate in the stories set before us. The Good Lord knows there are plenty of hacks out there who want to do our thinking for us, and Rover doesn't pander to them.

To say the parts in "Veronica's Room" require much agility and concentration is something of an understatement. There are four players and versatility is no luxury here, it's de rigeur. Taylor Granlund, who plays the young woman lured into impersonating Veronica, is spirited and intelligent, you cringe just wondering if something awful might happen to her. Abel Flores, as her boyfriend, is smooth and smarmy, and adroit at playing it close to the vest. Joe Porter, as the congenial Irish husband, is endearing (and yes) unnerving, and Terrie W. Justus, in the most demanding role of the wife, is powerful, fluid and understated. Justus has managed a bravura turn in this role, and will definitely get under your skin. Director Lisa Devine has orchestrated this demanding script exquisitely, capitalizing on its strengths, and taking full advantage of its eerie, chilling subtext.

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