Los Angeles Theater Review: VERONICA’S ROOM (Underground Theater)

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by Barnaby Hughes on March 5, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Novelist Ira Levin may be best-known for Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives, both made even more popular by their film adaptations, but as a playwright, Levin wrote the fifth longest-running play in Broadway history, Deathtrap (1978), made less popular by its film adaptation. Five years prior to Deathtrap, Veronica’s Room Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Visceral's VERONICA"S ROOM at the Underground, Hollywood(originally subtitled “a melodrama”) opened with Eileen Heckart and Arthur Kennedy, but lasted only 75 performances. Yet pick up a script of this overlooked tightly-wound thriller and you will see that it makes for a gripping read. Now, the Visceral Company is staging a “40th anniversary production” of Veronica’s Room, yet they are opting for Levin’s revised 1981 version of the script, which eliminates some nudity. In a slight departure, director Dan Spurgeon forgoes the usual intermission, linking up the play’s two acts in a seamless 80-minute running time. This deft move allows the play’s forward thrust to continue unabated to its haunting conclusion.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Visceral's VERONICA"S ROOM at the Underground, HollywoodVeronica’s Room is refreshingly simple as the entire plot unwinds in a single room, in real time and with just four actors. Levin’s intricately structured script plainly designates each role as The Man, The Woman, The Young Man and The Young Woman, since all roles involve the actor playing two different characters. The tale concerns a young woman who is persuaded to pretend to be someone named Veronica and unwittingly becomes a pawn in The Man and The Woman’s twisted family drama. As with Deathtrap, nothing is quite what it seems; those who revisit the play or reread the script will notice new details each time.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Visceral's VERONICA"S ROOM at the Underground, HollywoodAmelia Gotham gives a powerful performance as The Young Woman, moving across the emotional spectrum from naïve innocent to submissive victim with plenty of anger and fear in between. As The Young Man who is somewhat aloof and detached from the plot’s proceedings, Mark Souza brings a calm, steadying intensity amidst the crazy characters, one of whom is The Man, played by Patrick Skelton. The Woman is perhaps the slipperiest character, and Karen Kähler does not quite pull it off: In the tiny Underground Theater, her frenetic movements seemed comical and caricatured. Besides flubbing her lines on occasion (and she wasn’t the only one), Kähler actually picked up the wrong prop during one of her tirades.

The playwright is quite specific about what he wants the room to look like, what his characters wear and what props should fill the space right down to the wind-up Victrola that plays “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” Set designer Mary Hamrick and costume Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Visceral's VERONICA"S ROOM at the Underground, Hollywooddesigner Erica D. Schwartz ably capture both the 1930s and 1970s settings, but unfortunately the small playing area left the room of the play rather cramped; as such this production was not able to accommodate the chaise lounge which Levin created as a focal point of the action.

Still, Veronica’s Room is a compact gem of a play that, three (or four) decades later, has aged considerably well. The Visceral Company does not quite do Levin’s taut mystery thriller justice, but it is intelligent entertainment that will keep you riveted from start to finish.

photos by The Visceral Company

Veronica’s Room
The Visceral Company at the Underground Theater
1312 N. Wilton Pl., Hollywood
scheduled to end on March 30, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.thevisceralcompany.com

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