Veronica’s Room by Ira Levin. Directed by Allen E. Phelps.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Kathleen Carey, Ashley Blasland, Harry Vaughn; photo provided
"I’m going to give you the real reality."
It is the various levels of reality that playwright and novelist Ira Levin dealt with in 1973 when he wrote "Veronica’s Room," now playing at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York. Moment by moment, incident by incident, he strips away those levels until at the bottom of things we are left with the horror of the real reality of the tale he is spinning for us. Levin is a master storyteller and so, just as in his biggest hit novel "Rosemary’s Baby," we slowly discover the truth that allows the lies, the reality that disguises itself in other realities.
There are no untruths in this play. However, like life itself, the veils of truths are not always what they seem to be, nor hide what they seem to cover. Director Allen E. Phelps has understood Levin’s intent in this play and as he strips away character-characterizations we know that each bit of play-acting done by every participant in this one-night world of horrors is just as real as the one that preceded it.
If this sounds like dissembling, it is. This is a thriller, a horror tale, a mystery. I have no desire to give away one single thing, depriving you of finding out for yourselves what lies beneath. I am not that sort of spoiler. I will, instead, talk about the players and not their characters, the designers and not their designs.
Harry Vaughn plays The Young Man. He does so in three different styles of playing and by his final assault on reality we understand almost enough about him to feel the fear that anyone would feel on a first blind date. His good looks are his own. His base intentions are misleading, especially when he reveals the character flaw that should tell us all. Vaughn has the subtlety to make this work. What happens later is almost indescribable, but when you see me, talk to me about it and I will discuss openly what happens. When two people have seen the same thing, then it may be discussed.
Ashley Blasland is The Girl. She has a voice that I find difficult to listen to and that is the same reaction two other characters endure, so what is real here? Are we meeting Blasland or the character she plays so neatly. The Girl has two breakdowns in this play, or is it three? At least her final collapse into reality is done with spirit and feistiness and climaxes in the only way possible. Blasland has the subtlety to play the moments in this play and she handles her transitions from one state of mind to another with elan. Does she have a nude scene? Not really. Does it feel like she does? Just possibly. Am I crazy? Who knows!
The Man is played by John Philip Cromie who begins pleasantly albeit with a sinister undertone, then plays sinister with a sarcastic overtone, then plays romantic with a diffident air and plays sadistic with a compassionate balance. I loved his work in this play. Cromie never plays just one aspect of his character, but always two or more, working in opposition, at the same time. There are more colors in this man, as he acts this role, than in the large-size Crayola container. There is never a single dimension to his personal reality.
The Woman is a role taken by the estimable Kathleen Carey. I think it must be said, and this is not exactly a challenge but it might be taken that way, that Kathleen Carey has never met a role she has not conquered (including her wonderful comic/tragic turn in "Same Time Next Year"). I remember the wonderful Eileen Heckart in this part back in 1973 and Carey is her equal - not in style or character - in her depth of identification with a part. Here she takes on a role that allows her to play in so many styles that whether you see this play as a romance, a satire, a soap opera, a horror show, a laughter-free farce or a melodrama, there is no mystery in her work. There is only honesty and she lives through the part, top to bottom, with a reality that makes all other realities seem impossible. In "Veronica’s Room" Carey is at her very best from the first moment (almost transparent) to the last (completely transluscent). Levin is wonderful in creating twists and turns you never expect and Carey matches him by playing them all brilliantly. I was especially fond of her work here at the top of the second act: harsh, cold, unwavering and yet sentimental in the oddest sense of that word. Someone should write a new play just for this actress; she deserves one.
Tim Baumgartner’s set is perfect for this play as is Stephen Vieira’s lighting. Kate R. Mincer has created three styles of clothing for these characters and each outfit is just right. Kudos to the director, again, for pulling off the dark and strange transitions presented by the playwright. He is lucky to have the right cast, but his work is standing on its own merits here. He knew exactly when to turn something into something else, to plant a real reality, as The Woman says in Act Two, even if it is a fiction on some level or other.
I would have to say that this is a play not to be missed. Levin went on a short while later to write "Deathtrap," but in this play he was showing us how well he can handle the technicalities of horror. Everyone needs to pay attention to what really happens in "Veronica’s Room" - and no blind-dates, please.
Veronica’s Room plays at the Theater Barn through July 26. The Barn is located at 645 Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go onto the web at www.theaterbarn.com