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Theater review: 'Veronika Decides to Die' at the Eclectic Company Theatre

May 5, 2011 |  7:00 pm


Bestselling author Paulo Coelho’s “Veronika Decides to Die,”  about a suicidal young woman whose confinement in a mental hospital renews her appreciation for life, has been adapted for the stage and screen several times, most notably as a 2009 film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in the title role.

Why exactly adaptors Taylor Ashbrook and Beth Ricketson felt yet another take was necessary remains unclear. Their world-premiere adaptation at the Eclectic Company Theatre, while heartfelt, is notably turgid. 

Blame the source material, a sentimental stew based on the obnoxious cliché that the insane are just wise fools misunderstood by society -– a premise that wore thin somewhere between Freud and R.D. Laing.  Indeed, many of the patients in Villete, the Slovenian mental asylum in which most of the action is set, are articulate sages in retreat from an inimical world.  When Veronika (Ricketson) learns that her suicide attempt has irreparably damaged her heart and she has only days to live, she begins to appreciate the life she has taken for granted, including falling deeply in love with the engagingly schizophrenic Eduard (Jonathon Trent.)

Whether one accepts Coelho's work as pure parable or not, his essential premise is hurtfully simplistic, especially for those who have had first-hand experience of the ravages of mental illness.  Ashbrook, who also directs, follows Coelho's lead, offering up a sanitized, pat vision of the picturesquely insane that is not ameliorated by the obvious commitment (no pun intended) of her dedicated but uneven cast.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Veronika Decides to Die,” Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends May 15.  $18.  (818) 508-3003.  Running time:  2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: Dana Amromin, left, and Beth Ricketson. Credit: Chelsea Sutton.