Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Veronika Vavoom, Volcanologist"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi


by Olga Humphrey

directed by Jason Slavick

Backup Singer, Mrs. Sanchez, et. al. … Amy Barry
Frederic Tarver … Christopher Brophy
Browyn Overton/Basha … Maureen Keiller
Veronika Vavimetzu … Jennie Israel
George Overton … Jonathan Silver
Dominguez … Jesus Manuel Santiago

I missed Olga Humphrey’s VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST when it was read at last year’s Plays Unbound Festival; after attending its world premiere at Boston Theatre Works, I wonder what originally prompted Artistic Director Jason Southerland to develop and mount VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST as his latest “cutting-edge” production. In his welcoming speech, Mr. Southerland spoke of VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST going through various readings, workshops and feedback over the past year, adding that audience members might even recognize their suggestions incorporated into the current script. Judging by the evidence, too many hands may have stirred the plot; VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST doesn’t play as written but, rather, as RE-written.

The “cutting-edge” portion of VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST is that the female lead is (drum roll, please) a volcanologist and that half of the action takes place inside Galeras, a still-active volcano. Change the former to a social worker and the latter to more terra firma, and you have the rather predictable tale of a woman who first rescues and then is saddled with George, a troubled youth; Veronika tries reconciling the boy with Browyn, his cold socialite mother, while dealing with her own troubled past; George commits suicide in the end. (VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST is billed as “a hysterical new comedy that will have audiences erupting with laughter!”, mind you.) Nor does Ms. Humphrey’s wordplay break new ground; it is quite, quite conventional. (BTW’s recent production of MOLLY’S DREAM was far more topsy-turvy, and that little gem is over thirty years old.)

I’ll wager a guess that VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST’s former strength lay in its quirkiness: when Veronika first appears, a camp heroine is (briefly) born: a zaftig Barbarella in the Bette Midler mould. A running gag has Veronika being pursued by Dominguez, an obsessed Columbian who we hear but never see; in one hilarious bit, Dominguez knocks on Veronika’s door. She opens it. A hand comes out of the darkness and yanks Veronika offstage, slamming the door behind her. After a moment, rhythmic thumping against the door begins. If there were other scenes similar in tone, Ms. Humphrey either discarded or rewrote them; thus, the Veronika-Dominguez moments are out of sync with VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST’s serious portions which now dominate the evening.

The cast is wildly uneven. Jennie Israel, the Veronika, is a comic dreadnought chained in its harbor; she could very well have her audiences erupting should Ms. Humphrey give her half a chance. As Bronwyn, Maureen Keiller resorts to her screeching, banjo-eyed Cruella De Vil routines; she is far more moving when she doubles as Veronika’s mother, determined to find her missing son. Jonathan Silver, who has the looks and sweetness of a young Gene Wilder, is happier playing George’s smart-ass side than his depressive one; and Christopher Brophy’s Frederick starts off as wimpy and ends up…. less wimpy. The lovely, sexy Amy Barry provides pure pop pleasure as a 60s go-go dancer writhing to Motown songs (she effectively hides her curves when playing a schoolmarm); Jesus Manuel Santiago’s heavy-breathing Dominguez hints at what the original VERONIKA VAVOOM, VOLCANOLOGIST might have, or, if not, should have been.

"Veronika Vavoom, Volcanologist" (2-18 May)
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 939-9939

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide