Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2009
At last! A play that I don’t have to interpret at length for you! Veronica’s Room is a 1973 psychological thriller by Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and Deathtrap. It is not his masterwork, but for those who enjoy an impending sense of doom, a couple of murders, and some incest and necrophilia on a summer’s night, Levin delivers.
And so does the Theater Barn, which routinely stages something wicked in their third slot every summer. This year director Allen Phelps has rounded up a cast of four reliable regulars, cast them well, and let them follow Levin’s twisted tale around Tim Baumgartner’s gothic set, which manages to make the modest Barn stage seem twice its size.
I will not give away the plot, and neither will Levin. The four characters here are known simply as the Woman (Kathleen Carey), the Man (John Philip Cromie), the Girl (Ashley Blasland), and The Young Man (Harry Vaughn). The set-up has the Girl and the Young Man, out on their second date, approached by an older Irish couple who claim the Girl bears an uncanny resemblance to a young woman named Veronica Brabissant, the a long-dead daughter of the couple for whom they work. They ask if the Girl will return with them to Veronica’s room and speak with her sister, who is dying of cancer and in her delirium believes that it is once again 1935 and that her sister is still alive. She could die in peace if she just had one last conversation with “Veronica.” On a lark, the young couple agree.
Except there are no larks in Ira Levin, only vultures.
With such a small cast, every performance matters. Blasland is fine as the innocent Girl, putting up a strong fight in body and spirit. I have enjoyed her previous performances at the Barn, I realized last night that they have all been in musicals – an excellent Little Sally in Urinetown, a moving Young Vi in Violet, and a peppy Patty Simcox in Grease. The voice that sings so powerfully turns out to be a grating speaking voice. But kudos to Blasland for projecting over the torrential rain pounding noisily on the roof of the Theater Barn the night I attended. She has obviously had good vocal coaching and needs to work a little more to smooth out the rough edges of her speaking voice.
Carey can be depended on to provide a tightly controlled dramatic performance, and she does an excellent job here with a role that takes many twists and turns. She had me right up until the final S-bend, when Levin pushed the character past believability, but that is not Carey’s fault.
Cromie has a chilling moment early on when, standing in the doorway of Veronica’s room, he realizes that the Girl is facing away from him, babbling away excitedly about her little adventure, and with body language alone allows you to see the evil that lurks within his heretofore jovial and completely believable façade.
Vaughn plays Levin’s least likeable and most transparently written role. From the minute you learn the Young Man is wearing a false moustache you know he’s up to no good. I mean, who wears a false moustache on a dinner date? You’ll get soup all over it and have to have it dry cleaned.
I mentioned Baumgartner’s fine set. I wished that Kate R. Mincer’s costumes had done a better job of distinguishing between the two periods of the play. Clothes in 1935 and 1973 were very different and making that clear would have added to the suspense. And I wished that the dress Blasland dons as “Veronica” had been a bit more grown-up. Blasland is a tiny woman, and putting her in pink ruffles does tend to make her look more like a child.
The audience I attended with uttered some gasps of discovery and seemed pleased with the proceedings. If you enjoy this spooky genre July 2009 is your month! Barrington Stage has Antony Shaffer’s 1970 murder mystery Sleuth(which I will be seeing on July 19) up on their Main Stage. A thriller and a whodunit – that should keep you fans of murder and mayhem happy!
Veronica's Room runs through July 26 at the Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs an hour and forty-five minutes with one intermission and is too creepy/scary for children under 12. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009