Veronica's Room 1 -- Henry Fowler

The cast of Veronica's Room on their final performance night in front of a selling crowd//Henry Fowler

The cast of Veronica’s Room on their final performance night in front of a selling crowd//Henry Fowler

By Gabe Wanissian, Editor in Chief

Anticipation grew within the intimate confines of Ender Hall Lab Theatre as Ira Levin’s “Veronica’s Room” delivered its sinister tale to the audience. Long time director Mary Clifford brought together a group of young actors that took the crowd on a two hour, hair raising roller coaster ride.

It’s not hard to envision the show having such a gripping tale, as Levin – who also wrote thriller classics such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Deathtrap” – is masterful at the art of twists and turns, and Bergenstages rendition evoked that sense of terror faithfully.

The story’s initial premise is simple. Taking place a half an hour’s drive from Boston in 1973, A young woman out on a date with a man she has just met, is stopped by an elderly Irish couple and asked to do an unusual favor for them. Are these kindly, soft-spoken people the gentle, caring folk they seem to be, or is something more malicious at work?

The young woman (played by Veronica Vitale) is almost as naive of the couple’s intentions as the audience in the beginning of the show. “She loves life, she’s amazed by everything, and enjoys being with new people and is such a social character,” said Vitale, but as she and the audience grows in their suspicions, so to does Vitale’s character. “It’s really amazing to play somebody like that,” Vitale added.

The show maintains a fast pace throughout, and the first act is predominantly used to set up the premise and build up the characters for the wildly raucous and disturbing second half. Those who were looking for cheap jump scares would be sorely disappointed, as this is a psychological horror story through and through.

“This is a complete departure from what I do,” said Brendan Schlenker, who played the young man. A freshman straight out of Indian Hills High School in Oakland, the dark tone was new for Schlenker. “I’ve never done a serious role before, except Legally Blonde,” he joked.

But Veronica’s Room steers clear of even the most subtlest of humor, with plot elements hinting at incest, murder, necrophilia and stark insanity, the show was some of the boldest and edgiest work seen on a Bergen stage. Gasps in the crowd rang throughout the show, and even a loud “This is crazy!” remark could be heard. The actors had the audience in the palm of their hands.

The show takes place in a Victorian household in the 70s that has seemingly been untouched since the 1930s, leading to generational collision throughout the show. This theme of duality is further strengthened by the set design, lighting, accents and soundtrack all working in unison to transport the viewer into the very room itself.
The Man (played by Russell Holland) and The Woman (played by Rebecca Czarnogursky) provided exceptional performances, as the actors pull off a seamless character shift in the second half.

It is this second half alone that made it worth the price of admission, as all the story pieces reveal themselves in masterful fashion. Very rarely does a horror story translate well on stage, but Bergen students outdid themselves by being able to scare the Bulldog out of us all.