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Theater Review: Suspense Abounds In ‘Veronica’s Room’

Halloween is over, which makes the timing just slightly off for the Little Theater’s current production of Ira Levin’s Veronica’s Room. Levin gained fame with his scary portrayal of New York’s Dakota building in Rosemary’s Baby. But while that was a supernatural horror story involving congress with the Devil, Veronica’s Room, which came after that, deals with scary horror that is purely human in its origins — albeit sick human.

This is not frightening because of chainsaws or featureless hockey masks, but rather it is the story of a young woman caught up in a nightmare that just keeps getting worse as she is sucked into an impossible situation, with apparently no way out.

The year is 1973. Nicole Morin is Sue, a young Boston University student out on a date with her new boyfriend, Larry, when they are accosted in a diner by an elderly couple with a heavy Irish brogue, who explain that they are servants on a nearby estate. The woman of the house is dying of cancer, and her one wish is to be reconciled with her long-lost sister, Veronica. And, amazingly, Sue is the spitting image of Veronica. Come back to the house and see her picture, they say.

Veronica is actually dead, they explain. For seven years, starting in 1935, she had been an invalid, ill with tuberculosis, and had spent those years shut up in her bedroom, where she painted, made jewelry, and worked jigsaw puzzles until she died. But in her delirium, her sister Cissy has forgotten that Veronica died all those years ago. It would be such a kindness to a dying woman, if Sue were to impersonate Veronica, just for a half hour, so that Cissy could see her beloved sister one more time…

Once Sue reluctantly agrees to do so, in part from as an act of charity, and in part out of the spirit of adventure, things start to go very, very wrong.

She soon discovers that the door to the room is locked from the outside, so that she cannot leave. Soon the elderly couple returns, only now they are middle-aged New Englanders. They insist that the year is 1935, and that Sue really is Veronica; and that it is not TB which keeps her a prisoner, but the fact that she is an insane murderer who has killed her own sister — Cissy. They are keeping her there to avoid the scandal of a trial and an insane asylum. Nothing Sue says can convince them otherwise, nor will they allow her to leave the room.

Pam Meister Jones has given this horror story a workmanlike direction, and she has a very competent cast with which to do it. Christopher Bird is particularly good as the auld Irish gardener, who turns into the prim Massachusetts mill owner, while Elizabeth Young is chillingly sinister as the doddering elderly housekeeper who morphs into a cold and angry mother.

How can this be? What has happened to Larry? And what can Sue do to escape from Veronica’s room? Because if she doesn’t…

Stephen Saxton is disturbingly strange as Larry, and even more disturbingly strange is the denouement that comes at the end of the play. Levin ends it with a twist that I don’t think anyone saw coming. 

If you like this sort of thing, it is entertaining enough; but if you don’t enjoy the psychologically gruesome, forewarned is forearmed.

(The show runs weekends until November 30, with performances Friday and Saturday nights at 8, and 2 pm matinees on Sundays. Tickets are $20 for the evening shows, and $15 for the matinees.

The Little Theatre is at 18 Orchard Hill Road in Newtown.

Parents are cautioned that due to mature content in this play, it is not suitable for children.

Call 203-270-9144 or visit NewtownPlayers.org for tickets and additional information.)

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