A Room With a View to a Kill

Veronica’s Room: underappreciated, rarely mounted, and edge-of-your-seat

By Michael Hardy September 30, 2013 Published in the October 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image courtesy Stages Repertory Theater

A young woman and her date are dining at a Boston restaurant when an elderly couple approach, introducing themselves as the caretakers of an old house outside the city. They tell the young woman that she looks just like the daughter of the family they used to work for, and, to prove the resemblance, they invite the pair back to the house to look at old photographs. Thus begins Veronica’s Room, the 1973 Ira Levin play with which Stages Repertory Theatre kicks off its new season. Levin, who died in 2007, is best known for his novels—including Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil—but he was also an accomplished playwright whose 1978 thriller Deathtrap had one of the longest runs in Broadway history. 

Veronica’s Room
October 9–November 3
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In Veronica’s Room, as in much of Levin’s work, little is what it seems. After the young woman and her date arrive at the caretakers’ suburban home, the plot rapidly makes a series of unexpected turns, transforming from an intimate drama into an increasingly terrifying thriller. That leaves anyone writing about the play with a dilemma—how much can be revealed about the plot without spoiling the play for the audience? The play’s director, Josh Morrison, says that Stages faced a similar dilemma in mounting the production. “The biggest challenge is not tipping our hand,” Morrison says. “We never want to give away the secret.”

Veronica’s Room can be interpreted as a straight-up thriller, merely a clever piece of entertainment. But astute viewers have long noticed another side to Levin’s fantasies. Just as Rosemary’s Baby can be read as a work about social anxieties surrounding childbirth, and The Stepford Wives as a satire on suburban women controlled by their husbands, Veronica’s Room touches on serious themes of mental illness, domestic violence, and sexual perversity. 

“He’s very good at doing social commentary by masking it as a psychological thriller,” Morrison says. “I think there’s always a prevailing theme of women’s liberation, of women trying to break through these social constraints that were prevalent in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. It’s very similar to what Stephen Sondheim did, in that there were some social and political statements in their work, but they were always really good at masking it through the dramatic arc of a play.”

In Veronica’s Room, the dramatic arc takes the audience to places they could never have imagined in the first few scenes. I could tell you what some of those places are, but then I’d have to kill you. I’ll leave the killing to the play.

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