For a young, book-loving little lass, was there anything so magical as the mysteries of Nancy Drew? I remember having my demands being uncharacteristically capitulated to when I constantly asked to go to the bookstore or library to purloin the latest edition. I’m not sure if my parents were consciously trying to redirect my propensity to be a bossypants (I was the eldest child and supreme ruler of two pesky brothers).
And what young lady wouldn’t want to be like Nancy Drew? She wasn’t beholden to her boyfriend (a sensitive studmuffin, if the cover designs were to be believed). She was essentially a truant (she’s remarkably well-spoken for a school-skipping hooligan) but was well respected in her community. She was smart and always adorned in tasteful, well-tailored frocks. Simply put, she kicked butt.
So much so, in fact, that it wasn’t just bossy little girls who took notice of her powers and prowess. Local playwright and actor Stephen Thorne, a resident company member at Trinity Repertory Company, found himself so enthralled by the idea of this girl detective and her successors (Katniss!) that he penned the world premiere play Veronica Meadows on stage at Trinity Rep this month.
Featuring Stephen’s wife, acting company member Angela Brazil, as the eponymous heroine at the play’s center, Veronica Meadows is essentially a play about one of these mid-century sleuths (Director Michael Perlman, via Stephen, describes it as being “set in a kind of nostalgia”). Returning patrons to Trinity will no doubt recognize how skillfully Angela and Stephen both have handled nuanced, smartly-realized turns in the theater’s past, particularly in some of the complicated comedies we’ve seen from them. Stephen describes this play as having many ingredients, but says that it does have a darkly comic sensibility about it.
At the beginning of the play, Stephen says, Veronica and her best-friend slash sidekick are very much entrenched in the world they have always inhabited, like many of us. They wake up and go to work – in this case, solving mysteries. But that’s not all that lies ahead for Ms. Meadows. “I try to create stories that you discover as you go along. You’re not going to walk in and have everything happen from that first moment; that’s part of the fun,” says Stephen. “For anyone who has loved literature, they’re going to love this play, I just know it,” says Artistic Director Curt Columbus.
Stephen, who carefully chooses his words, not wanting to give away too much of, well, the mystery at the heart of the thing, says it best: “this sort of starts to change once she understands that it can. It’s almost like how a person doesn’t realize that things could be different until they say, hmm, what happens if I do this? And does it. And they start opening doors, and the old life gets left behind.”
Much like the close reading of the girl detective characters, though, there’s more than meets the eye about what’s unspooling with Veronica. Curt offers his take on the global themes of the play as being about what can happen not just in this particular woman’s life, but in the lives of all of us as we age, as our lives evolve and as we are faced with what’s left when we have the option to change. Lines blur, and the black and white go all fuzzy and pixelated on us. It’s just as true of what happens when Veronica rustles free from the constraints of her genre’s formula as it is with the world around us.
“It’s also a play about American exceptionalism. This idea that in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s you fought the Nazi, you solved the crime, you did all these things. But what does that mean to us in 2014? And what if the problem is you? If the problem you have to solve is you then that becomes a whole different kettle of fish,” Curt says.
This is Stephen’s second play staged by the company, which has been holding annual company workshops under the direction of Artistic Director Curt Columbus for the past eight years. These workshops have borne some remarkable fruit; not only was Stephen’s first play, the delightfully macabre …Edgar Allan Poe, a product of one of these company powwows, but the very ethos of the company has been nurtured here as well. As Curt says, this is a place where “the people who make plays happen can make comments on how to make these plays better.” April 3-May 4.