BWW Reviews: Trinity Rep's VERONICA MEADOWS Turns Into a Confounding, Disappointing Mystery
On some occasions, perhaps many, a great idea or concept almost effortlessly becomes a great play, movie, television show, etc. It's just the right combination of elements, brought together in exactly the right way, creating a perfect storm sort of event. On the other hand, there are many times when a great concept, a great idea, does not translate into a great finished product. Such is the case with Trinity Repertory Company's production of the brand new play Veronica Meadows, written by Trinity company member Stephen Thorne.
The Veronica of the title is a teenage girl-sleuth, in the vein of Nancy Drew. She is a local hero, praised by the townspeople and given a multitude of congratulatory plaques by the town's mayor. She has almost singlehandedly, with the help of her trusty sidekick, kept the town safe from crime and evildoers. As the play progresses, though, things are not what they seem. Veronica, it turns out, has grown up in age but not grown out of her desire to stay a plucky teenage private investigator. It's that change, from adolescent heroine into what the rest of us might consider an "adult," that she must face and deal with, whether she likes it or not.
Thorne previously wrote The Completely Fictional - Utterly True - Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe, and it seems he had a desire to keep some Poe-like darkness in this story as well. Back to that in a moment, but the main problem with Thorne's Veronica Meadows is that it's at least two, maybe more, completely different scripts in tone, feel and style. Act one is absolutely hilarious and wonderfully written, with great dialogue and a number of laugh-out-loud moments. Some of Thorne's best acting performances have been in comedies like Boeing-Boeing. All of that comic acting must have left a mark on his writing because he clearly has natural talent for writing comedy.
As the first act approaches its end, Thorne also shows some talent for foreshadowing and intrigue as he begins to set up a really interesting dynamic. Things start to get a little strange, in a good way, and the audience begins to feel that maybe nothing is actually what it seems. As reality and what may be fantasy shift, meld and split, Thorne juggles the story perfectly, creating something that feels a little like an episode of the X-Files, starring Nancy Drew, as directed by David Lynch. It grabs the audience and makes them want to know what will happen next.
Unfortunately, all of that expectation and anticipation is wasted as soon as act two begins. It starts with a confusing, muddled, door-slamming series of moments and then just goes downhill from there. The goodwill Thorne developed with his audience is strained and erased as the play gets darker and more twisted. Suddenly, there's violence, abductions, and even some torture thrown in for good measure. It's hard to imagine why Thorne decided to take the story in that direction, there were so many other options, but judging from the confused and bored looks on the faces of audience members, it didn't work out so well.
It doesn't help the cause that the most dull, least interesting character on stage is the title character herself. Veronica is written with little texture or nuance, she's a pretty shallow character who sticks to the "grown-up girl sleuth" type and does little else. Maybe that's Thorne's intention, but it just makes for a character who isn't all that likeable or sympathetic, just kind of crazy and sad. On the other hand, Thorne populated the rest of his script with minor characters who are truly wonderful, entertaining and interesting. All of them have a little uniqueness, a little quirkiness, to them and are really fun to watch.
Tops among the play's crazy characters is Ginny, the loyal and trusty sidekick to Veronica Meadows. In the role, Jennifer Laine Williams, looking like a young Julianne Moore, is a joy to behold. She starts out so wonderfully enthusiastic, eager and earnest, she really takes over every scene she's in with her sheer energy and charisma. As the play moves on, Williams continues to impress, perfectly creating the life of this girl who grows up and realizes what she has been missing and what she really wants out of life. The performance is touching and poignant as Williams shows us Ginny's joy in finding what she really wants, anger in her need to fight for it, and sadness at finally breaking away from the past for good. Her journey is really the play's most interesting and entertaining.
That's not to say that Veronica, played here by Angela Brazil, doesn't have a journey and some fascinating moments. Brazil takes full advantage of all of those moments to fully inhabit the character and give her a very real life onstage. Always so good in everything she does, it's a shame that this character doesn't give Brazil much more to do than acting either childish or psychotic (or both) for most of the show.
A number of other Trinity company members fill out the rest of the roles and they are as wonderful as you'd expect. Chief among them is Phyllis Kay who actually has most of the best lines and best moments. Kay hasn't always gotten the best leading roles in the recent past, but she is fantastic in every one of these kinds of supporting or character roles. She's a an absolute master at taking a seemingly insignificant role and making it magnificent.
Fred Sullivan Jr. and Joe Wilson Jr. are also masters at memorable minor roles. Here, they both play a number of parts and each one of them is perfectly fleshed out and brought to life. They both also seem to be having a great time on stage, lending even more energy and charisma to their characters. Finally, Brian McEleney displays his usual, reliable brilliance as Veronica's grandfather.
In the end, Veronica Meadows seems most of all like a missed opportunity. An entertaining and fun first half leads to something that has an entirely different feel, and not in a good way. Is the play supposed to be comedy? A farce? Tounge-in-cheek? Dead serious? Dark and twisted? It's a little bit of all those things, but not enough of any of them. And instead of going into interesting, original places, the story just takes the audience down into the same dark holes. Maybe down in that hole, Veronica can pull out her trusty flashlight and find the great play that exists somewhere deep inside this one.
Performances of Veronica Meadows run through May 4th at Trinity Repertory Company, located at 201 Washington Street in Providence. Tickets are $22 to $68 depending on the day/time of the performance. Showtimes are Sunday through Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm and Wednesday matinees (4/9 and 4/30) at 2:00pm. Tickets may be ordered online at www.trinityrep.com or may be purchased by visiting the box office, noon to 8:00pm, Tuesday to Sunday, or calling the box office, noon to 8:00pm Monday to Sunday, at (401) 351-4242.