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Nice and Creepy

A taut staging of 'Veronica's Room' shows how entertaining evil can be.

November 05, 1998|Stage Review T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ira Levin has always been an eclectic writer. He wrote the satiric "Critic's Choice" and the television and stage adaptations of "No Time for Sergeants."

But he's been most fascinated with the unexplainable and eerie, as he demonstrated in "Rosemary's Baby" and "Veronica's Room," the latter now in a sleek and solidly entertaining revival at the Long Beach Studio Theatre.

Larry and Susan, on their first weekend date in 1973, meet an elderly couple in a rural restaurant. The couple speak with slight Irish accents and claim that Susan is the spitting image of a young woman named Veronica, who died many years earlier in a nearby country home.

They talk the young woman into going with them to the house, then dressing like Veronica to please Veronica's dotty old sister Cissy, who thinks it is still 1935.

It's soon evident that Susan isn't sure who she is in this macabre situation. Indeed, the elderly couple, soon looking much younger and dressed in mid-'30s fashions, try to convince her that she is, after all, really Veronica. But who are they? And why have they placed Susan in this dream world? What has happened to her boyfriend?

Nothing is as it seems in Levin's labyrinthine puzzle, and no one is who he or she appears to be. It would be unfair to anyone who's never seen the play to explain further, except to say that it is all fascinating, involving and eventually horrifying.

Director Gregory Cohen gives just the right style to his staging, forthright and naturalistic, particularly sleek in its period look and firmly established tempos. He knows the territory of Levin's writing and guides his audience faultlessly through its maze.

For a very good reason, the actors are listed in the program generically, as "Man," "Woman," etc. Even Levin doesn't want to give anything away too early. The four actors don't either, and their performances are impeccable in their knowledgeable use of subtext, the feeling that a great deal is going on behind the dialogue, and that in each moment there is a possibility that everything will be turned around in the next moment.

As the Woman and the Man, Sharyn Case and Jack Thomas create rich portraits of their several personas, all believable and shaded with telling detail. Russell Elder's Young Man is just as carefully drawn in all the character's facets and is particularly effective in the aura of total evil he develops as he goes along.

As Susan, Jennifer Burns all but steals the show with her restraint in Susan's terrorized moments, and her carefully etched sense of confusion and panic as her awful situation slowly dawns on her.

If horror and evil can ever be said to be entertaining, Cohen proves it with this solid restaging of one of Levin's most interesting and demanding scripts.


"Veronica's Room," Long Beach Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. $12-$15. (562) 494-1616. Ends Nov. 14. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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