Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Veronica's Room (Review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Only, not that many spoilers. Honestly, revealing much of what actually happens in this play could definitely ruin it. I shall endeavor to avoid such...

Veronica's Room debuted in the 1970s. It emerged from the pen and mind of Ira Levin, the writer responsible for both Deathtrap and Rosemary's Baby. Therein lies one's first clue. Not a comedy. And not anything really straightforward. Coming up with a genre for this play makes for a challenge in and of itself. After due consideration, my own choice would be "psychological horror." The story begins with some mild disquiet that grows and grows, until at last one feels they've received a heavy dose of nightmare fuel.

The essential plot set-up is one that screams "omg don't do it!"

Susan (Amelia Gotham), a college student in 1973 Boston, enters an old-fashioned bedroom. An elderly Irish couple show her in--the husband played by Patrick Skelton and a wife Karen Kahler. Susan's date (Mark Souza) hovers nearby, suspicious. The room belonged to a girl named Veronica, who died of tuberculosis years and years ago. Her elderly sister Cissy lives there now, dying of cancer. But Cissy has grown confused of late, distressed Veronica hasn't spoken to her in so long, fearful she's angry for some
Karen Kahler, Amelia Gotham, Mark Souza & Patrick Skelton
reason. The elderly couple say Susan is the spitting image of Veronica and hope she'll pretend to be the dead sister for a few minutes, to give her a little peace of mind.

We all know of course she will agree. If she didn't, whence the play after all? But--what happens next?

And if you're to enjoy the play, I cannot really tell you.  It would be like telling someone the end of The Usual Suspects who hasn't seen it--or revealing the solution to The Murder on Orient Express. But suffice to say you'll be left guessing almost to the last line of dialogue. When I attend the production at the Visceral Company opening night, my companion figured out an essential detail twenty minutes before I did. My sense of the audience was that I was ahead of them. And it seems safe to say further revelations continue, providing still more nightmare fuel (see above).

The production suffers (slightly) from a space almost too small for the play. Honestly, if one more character had come on, they would need to lose some pieces of furniture. An ingrained problem remains that the play itself begins slowly. Very slowly. But for that blame Ira Levin and the tale he decided to tell. How to get around that baffles me.

What remains sterling however is the cast. Amelia Gotham is the only one I've seen prior, in the same company's very fine two-person show of The Turn of the Screw. She shines again in a very different role--someone thoroughly sane and nice, having to endure something worthy of the more disturbing episodes of Twilight Zone or Criminal Minds. The great trap with something like that is play such an ingenue as passive. She avoids that trap, and in fact comes across as a sufficiently real--and flawed--human being that we begin to doubt reality at a few points.

Mark Souza also fails to fall into the trap of his part--that of a single-note personality. I dare not reveal more, but suffice to say he manages to portray a person rather than a cardboard cutout.

Central to the whole piece remains Kahler and Skelton and the dynamic between them, which involves layer after layer peeling back. Give credit where it is due--all that is indeed in the script, but plenty of actors fail to do written words justice. In this, both succeed admirably. I must say especially Skelton, but that is likely because of the way his role is written--probably the most complex in the play.

But be warned--Veronica's Room is genuinely disturbing, all the more since the cast members invest their roles with so much reality. The story feels as if it could happen, and that genuinely terrifies.

The Visceral Company's production of Ira Levin's Veronica's Room plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm at the Underground Theatre, 1312 North Wilton (at Fountain) in Hollywood. Tickets are $20 and well worth the price.

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