By Christine Dolen for the Sun-Sentinel
Rich Orloff’s “Veronica’s Position,” which had its premiere at Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre in 1994, is an original work that nonetheless owes plenty to Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Robert Mapplethorpe and the never-ending clash between liberal and conservative forces over federal funding for the arts.
A new Island City Stage production directed by Michael Leeds deftly juggles the six intersecting characters and plot lines, and the cast enthusiastically tears into a script about a subject the actors know well: the theater.
“Veronica’s Position” brings together two famous exes, the American Veronica Fairchild (Laura Hodos) and the British Phillip Wilder (Ben Sandomir), for a 1989 Broadway-bound Washington, D.C., tryout of “Hedda Gabler.”
Nervous, dieting and prone to acting the diva, film star Veronica is making her stage debut, as Taylor did in “The Little Foxes.” Phillip, who has gone on the wagon prior to reuniting onstage with the two-time former spouse he calls “Toots,” gives as good as he gets from Veronica. He’s cut from the same cloth as Burton, who reunited with Taylor in a critically slammed Broadway production of “Private Lives.”
Veronica is ensconced in a posh D.C. hotel suite, where she’s having sleepovers with her latest beau, conservative Sen. Harvey Johnson (Steve Carroll). He has presidential ambitions and the ability to buy her the diamonds she adores (there’s Taylor again), so when he pops the question seeking to become husband number who-knows-what, Veronica delightedly says yes.
Her longtime assistant Alan Croft (Stephen Kaiser), a gay man still deeply in mourning a year after the death of his partner, manages the traffic flow in and out of the suite. The other visitors are director Mallory Dascomb (Christina Groom), an attractive academic with impeccable Henrik Ibsen credentials and a sense that this “Hedda Gabler” could be her commercial breakthrough, and Ezekiel Barrows North (Jordon Armstrong), a controversial photographer inspired by Mapplethorpe. Ezekiel has his own political agenda, and when he re-encounters Alan, he begins to hit on his old friend.
The twists, turns and surprises of the plot are best experienced firsthand. Orloff’s writing is sometimes witty, other times more mechanical – Noel Coward or Douglas Carter Beane he’s not, at least in this instance, though he’s written many a hilarious short play showcased in past editions of City Theatre’s Summer Shorts festival.
The fun in Island City’s “Veronica’s Position” flows from the performances of its seasoned cast, and as is so often the case, the design work is impressive.
Hodos, who works all over Florida and is best known here as a musical theater actor, is alluringly commanding as Veronica. She looks movie-star beautiful in W. Emil White’s costumes, and working in Island City’s intimate space, she hits her character’s diva moments, vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses just right.
As Phillip, Sandomir is cool and crafty, and when he gets to let loose in the last scene, the comedy shifts into high gear. Groom, a redhead dressed to maximum stunning color effect by White, wears Mallory’s frustration and agenda well.
Carroll is manipulative, condescending, judgmental – in other words, the type of senator we’ve come to know and loathe. Kaiser is witty and on top of everything as Alan, and Armstrong is a hottie provocateur as Ezekiel; though their performances illuminate their characters, they don’t have much believable chemistry together.
In addition to Natalie Taveras’ elegant set and White’s terrific costumes, lighting designer Ardean Landhuis, sound designer David Hart and wig/hair designer Bonnie DuBeck make “Veronica’s Position” a lovely-to-look-at (and listen to) production.
As a play, “Veronica’s Position” has its flaws. But Leeds, that most artful of directors, and his artistic colleagues have made Island City’s production sparkle at least like a top-of-the-line cubic zirconia, if not the sort of blinding diamond so adored by Ms. Taylor.
“Veronica’s Position” runs through June 30 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $38. To order, call 954-519-2533 or go to www.islandcitystage.org.
Christine Dolen is a freelance writer.