Mention the name of Ira Levin, and most people will think of Rosemary's Baby, his stunning novel,which was turned into an equally stunning film. Many will think of The Stepford Wives, a thriller with a brilliant central idea, and a good number will mention The Boys from Brazil. Ask about his plays, and it's a racing certainty that the one to spring to mind will be the highly successful Deathtrap. Ask about his mystery fiction and a good number of folk will recall A Kiss Before Dying, a superb story with a terrific plot twist which has twice been filmed.
Very few people, I guess, will associate Levin's name with his 1973 play Veronica's Room. It was a commercial flop, although it has been revived from time to time, and it has never been filmed. Arguably, it's too unsettling to have been a commercial success. I've never seen it staged, but I've read it twice, once about thirty years ago and again the other day. Each time I was greatly impressed.
Susan, a 20 year old woman who is out on a date with a new boyfriend meets a much older couple. They are struck by her resemblance to Veronica, someone who died almost 40 years earlier, and they explain how it would be a huge benefit to a dying woman if Susan would agree briefly to impersonate the late Veronica. Susan allows herself to be persuaded.
Naturally, things take an unexpected turn. Could it be that Susan really is Veronica, and that the events of this play is taking place in the Thirties rather than the Seventies? Who is playing games with whom? The audience doesn't quite know whom to believe. The climax is quite shocking, and I can imagine that many found it a turn-off. But I rate Veronica's Room as one of the cleverest and most memorable crime plays I've ever read. I'd love to see it performed on the stage one day.