Company Debuts With Levin Play

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

By April, most theater companies are gearing up for one last production before the end of the season, but a new company performing at Evergreen Theatre is launching its first.

Randi Sluder and Mark Rutledge, co-producers of Working Title Productions along with Jason Spitzer, rehearse the company’s inaugural production “Veronica's Room” by Ira Levin. (Photo: Courtesy of Jason Spitzer)

Working Title Productions’ inaugural show, “Veronica’s Room” by Ira Levin, will be staged for three weekends beginning April 20.

“Ultimately the company’s mission came out of the process of this play,” said Jason Spitzer, director of the play. “It’s not the play’s first go-round here, but it hasn’t been seen here in a long time.

“It’s like wine, it ages and ages and now is its time. It deals with subject matter that perhaps audiences weren’t ready for in the 1970s, but now fed on a steady diet of crime shows, I think audiences will be much more accepting of it.”

Levin is the author of other controversial-at-the-time shows like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Deathtrap,” in which social boundaries are pushed to the limit and violence is more graphic than other works of the time.

Similarly, “Veronica’s Room” is a psychological thriller written for shock and awe.

“Don’t talk to strangers,” Spitzer said. “That’s the message here.”

In it, Susan, a young college student in Massachusetts goes out on a date with a man she just met. At dinner the couple is approached by an aging Irish couple who are caregivers to a wealthy woman dying of dementia.

Susan, played by Leah Beth Bolton, it turns out is a dead wringer for the dying woman’s dead sister. The Irish couple asks a favor – that she will come to their charge’s country mansion and pretend to be the sister to give the woman one last moment of happiness.

She agrees and things go disturbingly wrong.

“In the 70s the play ran on Broadway, but it was not a runaway success,” said Spitzer. “Later on, Ira Levin made some changes because he thought some of the twists toward the end were testing the audience’s patience. He was always ahead of his time, testing boundaries.”

Think “Criminal Minds” on CBS.

Mark Rutledge and Randi Sluder, both of whom have acting credits at Theatre Memphis and DeSoto Family Theatre, are co-producers of Working Title, along with Spitzer, who has directed multiple times at Theatre Memphis. Kinon Keplinger rounds out the cast of four.

Rutledge was also a former president of Playwrights’ Forum, which produced new original plays for some 20 years. He and Spitzer met working on a Playwrights’ Forum production and continued to run into each other on stages around the city.

“We were talking about the opportunity for more mature, older actors to find parts in the Memphis community,” Rutledge said. “In the same vein, we were looking for plays that interest us.”

The new company chose Evergreen Theatre at Poplar and Evergreen for their venue and became an associate member company. The production, said Spitzer, will include a full set – not a black box set.

In order to keep the intensity level of the show running high, they opted to nix the intermission between the two acts and complete the show in 75 minutes.

“We’re testing the waters to see how it goes,” Spitzer said. “But we wanted something that we could do well. We didn’t want to skimp on it, we put some money into it and it’s going to be a handsome production.”

The next Working Title play has not been chosen yet, but will take place sometime in the 2012-2013 season. In time the group hopes to run a full season.

Tickets for “Veronica’s Room” are $10 and can be reserved by calling 278-3486 or by emailing Tickets can be paid for at the door with cash or credit card.

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.