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Searching for clues

Trinity Rep's 'Veronica Meadows'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  April 9, 2014

TRUE DETECTIVE Brazil. [Photo by Mark Turek]

We’ve had dashing female action heroes on such TV shows as Alias and Covert Affairs, and enjoyed the exploits of teenage girl detectives in books, from Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew to Lulu Dark. And now there is the sharp-witted eponymous heroine of Veronica Meadows, by Stephen Thorne, which Trinity Repertory Company is world premiering (through May 4), directed by Michael Perlman.

She’s not to be confused with TV’s girl detective Veronica Mars. This one has a forlorn side, as her story parodies the genre. She’s weary of her omniscient problem-solving knack, commendation plaques from the mayor spilling off the walls of her bedroom, down the hall, and piling up in her garage. Forlorn eventually amps up into endangered, as reality elbows its way into her world of facile accomplishments and puts its fists up.

The theme here is the search for self-identity, especially after being complacent about a beaming public persona that doesn’t match a more conflicted inner life.

Three years ago, Trinity mounted Thorne’s The Completely Fictional — Utterly True — Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe. This new bold effort by the company’s acting didn’t completely hold up for me, seeming to suffer from a shaky structure and abrupt plot changes. For example, we’re not prepared for a sudden shift when Veronica finds herself in a future where she’s married and working in an insurance office (arguably, she is perplexed, too). This is to parallel the psychological dislocation people can have when they find themselves with adult responsibilities but still feel like carefree kids. Existential lag time.

The opening is cute, with blackout poses simulating photographs of Veronica (Angela Brazil) and her nervous sidekick Ginny Balderston (Jennifer Laine Williams) engaged in various sneaky detective acts. Orphaned 16-year-old Veronica observes to Ginny that they always win out because they are good people, smart, well-prepared — and, proudly, girls.

We see a typical case solved, as she confronts and accuses a murderer (Joe Wilson, Jr.) but she is unworried when he grabs Ginny by the throat. She is so clever she is bored at always knowing what will happen next, in this case that the guilt-ridden miscreant will give himself up. Crestfallen, he compliantly does, and Veronica politely gives him directions to the police station.

Brazil is an enjoyable Veronica, in both early self-confident and later self-doubting modes. But in a way, the more interesting change is undergone by Williams’s peripatetic Ginny. She is never as well-prepared as the meticulous Veronica, always forgetting to bring a flashlight to their after-dark sleuthings. Her first transformation is during a giddy boy-hungry period after she discovers that boys find her attractive, so detecting no longer interests her. Then a life trauma shakes her into emotional sobriety, so by the closing scene she is the responsible adult, with Veronica meekly settling for being of use in the safest and most unchallenging occupation she can find.

Phyllis Kay is very funny as the girls’ camp counselor who nervously pulls a gun on them after Veronica accuses her of stealing a diamond broach. “I’m not a bad person,” the thief whines, pointing and unpointing the weapon in spasms of approach-avoidance conflict.

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