I found myself deeply divided watching Veronica Decides To Die. I was turned-on by the production’s use of video, music, movement and songs, but I was turned-off by its long tracts of exposition.
A friend of mine hit it on the head at intermission when she said that the things that she liked most about this show were also the things she enjoyed the least. What we both really enjoyed was – foremost – how the show was an exaggeration of life through the use of live video of the action onstage.
The staging was engaging, and the performances, including a few bars of an opera, and whole lot of movement – everything from fighting to dancing – kept things going.
But there were times when the use of video went from fascinating to fetish-like, feeding-off details that didn’t seem important. And while the performances are pleasing and give a bit of insight into Veronica, the movement vignettes got a mixed reception. They were great in the first act, and I felt they were okay in the second. But my friend was more critical. Pointing to moments when, to her, the actors seemed awkward in their movements to one another.
The premise of this multi-media production, which will go up a few more times at the Walmer Centre Theatre, is intriguingly simple. At 24-years-old Veronica (Elena Juatco) decides to overdose on pills. We see her take the pills. And we see her wake-up in hospital two weeks later. A doctor (played by Alex Dault, who imbues incredible energy into his character) informs her that she’s so badly damaged her heart that she has just a week to live (“So I succeeded then,” she replies). Presumably because she’s still considered a danger to herself, Veronica is confined to the mental ward of the hospital. A boy about her age named Eduard (Rob Lampard) is also in treatment there, and it isn’t long before Veronica falls for him. I won’t give away more at the risk of spoiling it.
The narrative requires just the barest of exposition. Unfortunately though, the Darkroom Theatre Project, which in addition to performing Veronica Decides To Die, also collaborated in adapting the novel, doesn’t seem to trust us to get it. Enter Eduard 2 and Veronica 2 (the incredibly likable Viktor Kawski and Claire Wynveen, respectively); two superfluous characters who rhapsodize at length about events we’ve just seen. At worst they were occasionally frustrating to watch, but even at best they came across as a bit supercilious.
Looking at Veronica Decides To Die purely for what it is – an adaptation of a novel – was, for me, the best way to reconcile my divide over this work. While it’s fun to watch, the show was only occasionally engaging on an emotional level, and did just slightly better as an intellectual thesis – at least for me. What’s really cool about Veronica Decides To Die – and the reason I was happy to go – is the sheer variety and expertise that the company has over its multi-media techniques. The transparency of the process of adaptation – a process the company indulges in – is fascinating.
– Veronica Decides To Die is playing at the Walmer Center Theatre (188 Lowther Ave)
– The show runs Tuesdays to Saturdays – June 18 to 28, 2008
– Tickets are $20, $12 for Students and Artworkers; call Darkroom Theatre Projects at 416-302-1144 for more information