This past Sunday we were again reminded that the line between professional and community theater in New Jersey is many times blurry or simply non-existent. We reviewed a community theater production of Ira Levin's chilling play Veronica's Room at The Barn Theatre in Montville, New Jersey at the 2 pm matinee. This production was absolutely on a par with a recent professional version. To say we were surprised, is not accurate. The Barn Theatre is blessed with a very impressive group of long serving, experienced volunteers, many of whom are former pros who traded stage careers for motherhood or a regular paycheck. We've made this point numerous times in the past regarding not only The Barn Theatre, but also such groups as The Chatham Players, The Strollers of Maplewood and The Chester Theatre Group (past board member).
Author Ira Levin, of course, has an impressive string of thriller hits, Rosemary's Baby, Deathtrap and The Stepford Wives. In Veronica's Room be prepared to be pulled in, ever so slowly, into a fascinating whirlpool of deceit where you'll never be sure of what's real or just bizarre fantasy. It is as chilling a ride as we've ever experienced in the theater.
The plot, or as much of it as we can reveal, involves a young couple who have been enticed to a mansion, not quite of the Psycho variety, by its elderly caretakers. There, the young girl is persuaded, as an act of kindness, to impersonate the deceased daughter of the owner for her sick sister who believes she's still alive. Once she agrees to this charade the nightmare begins. That is absolutely all we can say about the plot or character detail without entering 'spoiler' territory.
What we can say is that director Omar Kozarsky, a cast of four very talented actors and a strong production team have combined to present a production that deserves four stars. The cast features Wendy Schibener as The Girl, William Michael Harper as The Young Man, Laura Kennedy as The Woman and Michael Lawlor as The Man.
First, Wendy Schibener is truly outstanding in this very demanding role that requires a wide range of emotions from bright to dark. She beautifully nails this part, drawing the audience into this bizarre world. Both men, William Michael Harper as The Young Man and Michael Lawlor as The Man are excellent. Laura Kennedy as The Woman is marvelous, particularly in the closing scenes.
It may be a cliche, but be prepared for edge of your seat chills and thrills in this superior production of one of Ira Levin's creepiest plots. Did I mention a kick-in-the-teeth surprise climax?
Director Omar Kozarsky's production team includes Steve Catron scenic design; Janice Schopper costume design, Steve Gilgur lighting design; Jeff Knapp sound design; John Trumbull properties; Elisabeth Barker hair and makeup; Joe Guadara assistant director and set decor; Craig Zimmermann set construction; Tom Wright production stage manager; and Cheryl Wilbur and Nancy Zeidenberg co-producers.
Remaining performances will be on September 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28 at 8 pm; and on September 15 and 22 at 2 pm. Tickets are $18 (senior/student tickets are $16 on matinees only). The play is in two acts with total time, including intermission, about two hours.
The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. There is ample free parking. For reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320 or email at BoxOffice@barntheatre.org or visit the Box Office on Saturdays, 4-7 PM.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 8, 2013