Just in time for the Halloween season, Arena Dinner Theatre brings back a creepy old theatrical thriller, Veronica’s Room.
Written by Ira Levin, who also wrote Rosemary’s Baby, the 1973 play has an early ’70s horror vibe that isn’t seen onstage much these days. But given audience reactions on opening night and at the preview performance, maybe it should.
In the first act, 20-somethings Susan and Larry have just finished their second date, which has ended up in the bedroom of an old house. It seems Susan resembles Veronica Brabisant, a young woman who died in the room in 1935. Veronica’s now-elderly sister Cissie, who does not have all her mental faculties, believes it is still 1935 and that Veronica is alive but angry with her. To give her peace and closure as she nears death, her kindly caretakers, the Mackeys, have asked Susan to dress as Veronica to assure Cissie she still loves her.
Then the second act gets weird.
What follows is a horror story of murder and madness, and themes of serious childhood trauma with twists and turns that shocked the opening night audience.
Morgan Spencer plays the character listed in the script as Young Woman. Spencer plays the feisty, liberated ’70s college student with energy and humor. As the story turns on its ear, she retains her strength, even as she’s physically flung all around the stage.
As Young Man, Adam Sahli plays the opposite — uptight and suspicious, and afraid to show affection — but he also has a strange charm (and a pretty good Irish stage brogue).
The older Man and Woman are played by Tyler Kimberly and Maggie Kole Hunter. Kimberly is a bit young to play an elderly gentleman, but his voice, body language, and makeup are effective and convincing. His second act persona is the mirror opposite of his charming first-act Mr. Mackey.
Hunter is downright scary in all the right ways. Her accents are perfect, and she brilliantly runs the gamut of every emotion possible. Isabelle Pifferitti’s performance as the Girl provides spine-tingling bookends to the terrifying tale.
The lighting and sound design by Brock Eastom give a cinematic feel to the production. Director Joel Grillo allows long silences to build tension during the play (much like an early ’70s horror film) but also frequently allows humor to break that tension.
Veronica’s Room, which runs through October 13, has a mildly nightmarish undertone from beginning to end, leaving the audience gasping. It’s perfect for a chilly autumn night.