BWW Review: Dare to Enter VERONICA'S ROOM at the Belmont
Ira Levin may be known best for the movies based on two of his thrillers, ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE STEPFORD WIVES, But Levin's works encompass not just supernatural and science fiction chills, but psychological horror as well, and that on stage. Many are familiar with DEATHTRAP, but Levin is also responsible for an equally chilling and unwholesome little piece called VERONICA'S ROOM.
The Belmont's production is directed by Paul Lajkowicz, who has a nice ability to make the unnatural look normal, at least for a little while. A young man and young woman who have just started dating have been asked over to the house of an older couple they met at dinner. They'd like the girl to talk to "Cissy," as she resembles Cissy's dead sister. It seems a simple enough request, though the young man isn't sure. That's when some things go toes up in the most unexpected ways imaginable - or, for that matter, the most unexpected and unimaginable ways.
The girl winds up in the room of the dead sister, Veronica, whom she apparently resembles, and with Veronica's supposedly dead parents confronting her as the equally supposedly dead Veronica. There's no supernatural or science fiction feature in this Levin thriller, but there's a psychological terror and a total imbalance of sanity that's close to the same level of fear in Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.
The older couple is played by Kathleen Tacelosky and David Kloser. Both are fine but Tacelosky is a revelation, especially in Act Two; Kelly Warren plays the younger woman, and Charlie Heller the young man. Heller manages to channel a lucid, friendly malevolence until the very end, when it's not so friendly at all.
The studio is the proper place for a show like this; it's an intimate piece that does its best when you can apprehend it with immediacy. In a three-sided close-up seating situation, it's as if you're in Veronica's bedroom with her. The play was not originally successful on Broadway - Levin made a number of changes after its Broadway run - possibly because distance and a proscenium make the story less intimate, less in-your-face. The terror rises with the closeness to the characters. Being there is important for the show, and the further into the room you come, the better. The Belmont's production is a reminder that "ghoulies, ghosties, and four-legged beasties" are never quite as terrifying as humanity itself,
Up next is a show of a totally different character, the musical ANNIE. There couldn't be a more different choice from this one, and if you're sufficiently terrified here, you might need a dose of cute little girls to pull you out of it.