*Originally written for LA Theatre Review
“I came for a classic thriller. I got a full-on nightmare.”
Still playing at the Underground Theatre is Visceral Company’s intriguing showstopper, a 40th anniversary production of the Ira Levin classic, Veronica’s Room.
On a spring night in 1973, naive co-ed Susan and her date find themselves in a Victorian mansion outside of Boston, guests of the elderly caretaker couple. Hearing the tragic tale of the dying estate owner, Susan agrees to impersonate Veronica, a long-dead sister she resembles. While pretending to be Veronica begins quite innocently, Susan suddenly discovers herself locked in Veronica’s room…and then a bizarre, reality steps in.
I was looking forward to another “go around” with actress Amelia Gotham. I had first experienced Amelia’s penetrating work in one of Visceral’s previous productions, the Henry James novella, Turn of the Screw, which received a 2013 LA Weekly Theatre Nomination. So coming back for a second look, to watch an artist’s, growth, choices, characters, and hopefully newness that might be added to a current production, was an exciting prospect. I was not disappointed.
Furthermore, and what a relief to be able to say, that not only did Ms. Gotham turn out another shattering performance as Susan, what was ultimately exquisite about this production was the unwavering, spotless, talents of the entire cast, the cohesiveness of the play and intricately, developed character work including the Bostonian accents (of which I am an authority being a native downtown Bostonian myself), surrounded by a gorgeous set and costuming (by Erica D. Scwartz) that brought this baby home!
For the first time since the beginning of this year, I was sitting in the front seat of a first rate show with four, top-notch, theatrical, heavy weights: Amelia Gotham, Karen Kahler, Patrick Skelton and Mark Souza.
American author, dramatist and songwriter Ira Levin had a distinguished penchant for the preternatural having been the creator of several well-know cult films that most of us can never forget such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives and also his 1978, Tony nominated play, Death Trap. Veronica’s Room is every bit a creepy, suspense, thriller with an ugly and verily, sadistic end.
And even though this play is not particularly new (it was first mounted in 1973) it still plays fresh, with the cast managing to keep the surprises under wraps. So if you know nothing about this script you will be in for quite a titillating ride.
Worth noting was the immediate recognition I had with the set design (created by Mary Hamrick), the expectation of visually seeing a simple and decidedly “pretty” room, dressed with artifacts, scrimmed by heavy sheers, and dimmed by cobwebbed, lamps, untouched by time, in suspended animation and yet feeling a certain dread that there was so much more to this picture. Clues, like the puzzle on the table, the disturbing art on the easel, vintage trinkets and bobbles on a dresser and the old Victrola, somehow without words, told us that although it all looked pleasant, there was a big secret. This, all before the “lights came up.”
And when Susan, dressed up in Veronica’s clothing plays, “…it’s so nice to have you back where you belong,” on the Victrola, we know for sure it’s going to get scary, ugly and desperate.
My only criticism was being completely relieved when a flying prop came dodging directly at me (in the first row) during the performance and luckily only hit my leg rather than dead in the eyes. I am hoping that they can manage a better stage direction for this one tense moment.
Otherwise, this show is already well written and so well done by the cast. If I had more than two thumbs, I’d put them all up. Superb!
Dave Sousa – Lighting Design. Natalee Castillo – Hair & Makeup Design.
Recommended for mature audiences.