On the rare occasions I watch horror movies (always in the safety of my living room), I tend to yell at the characters on the flickering screen: "Don't go out there!" "Don't do that!" "Don't let it in!"
Such is the sense of menace conjured in Ira Levin's "Veronica's Room," onstage at UCF Conservatory Theatre, that I had to stifle my shouted warnings.
Levin, who also wrote "Deathtrap," has crafted a thriller in which it's unclear who is speaking the truth and who is actually who or what they seem to be. (The program's no help, indentifying the characters only as "The Woman," "The Man," "The Girl" and "The Young Man."
The only thing that's clear from the outset is that something's not quite right in the scenario we're watching: It's the 1970s — we know that from costume designer Tan Huaixiang's bright patterns and funky bell bottoms. A young couple are guests in an older Irish couple's home.
But the older folks' Irish charm is a bit much. Isn't the jolliness of the woman (Kate Ingram) forced? Isn't the accent of the man (Earl Weaver) a wee bit inconsistent?
It soon becomes clear that the young woman in this quartet (Chloe Miranda), called Susan, doesn't know any of the others well — it's only her second date with the young man (Will Browning), first if you don't count Sunday when they met.
The alarm bells start ringing when it's revealed why she's at the couple's home and what they have asked her to do. And those alarms get louder and louder with each passing moment as director Julia Listengarten makes something as ordinary as combing hair carry sinister undertones.
Run, Susan, run!
But she doesn't. And so, teasingly, with twists and turns, the truth of what's really going on is revealed — and it's not for the squeamish or prudish. (Parents, note this play is not suitable for children and contains brief nudity.)
There's not much more that can be said without ruining the twisty nature of the plot. Even to comment too much on the acting could spoil it. Suffice it to say that Ingram gives a powerhouse performance, not only showing emotional range but a transformative quality to her acting.
Miranda makes Susan's improbable decision early in the story at least seem possible, though she falters a little when Susan starts realizing her frightening predicament. A slower build to her fear would help. And though it's hard to make the large Mainstage Theater feel like a trap, Bert Scott's lighting could have done more to create a sense of claustrophobia.
There is an effective unsettling lighting design at play's end, reflecting the twisted souls that inhabit this twisted little play. The shivers from this creepy story are not only those of fear but of repulsion at the things damaged people can do.
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See for yourself
•What: UCF Conservatory Theatre production of 'Veronica's Room,' a mystery-thriller by Ira Levin
•Where: UCF Mainstage Theater, University of Central Florida, off University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail
•When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday (July 1-2), 2 p.m. Sunday, July 3. The show will then be reprised at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday from Aug. 25-28
•Tickets: $17; $15 say, 2 p.m. Sunday eniors; $10 students
•Call: 407-823-1500Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times