Brian Bowman as Clifford and David Myers as Sidney
in Deathtrap. Photo – Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Written by Ira Levin
Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Ira Levin’s Deathtrap holds the record for being the longest-running comedy-thriller in Broadway history, and the chief reason is a scenario that manages to be both tricky and economical. The mix of macabre humor, surprise plot twists and grisly, scary moments make for a fairly irresistible treat for an audience. It also means that the less said about the plot the better, so we will leave it at this: Sidney Bruhl, a highly successful writer of mystery plays, experiences a serious writer’s block that is only exacerbated by a new script from a young man named Clifford, who had attended one of Sidney’s seminars. Sidney’s wife, Myra, is horrified when Sidney seems to begin contemplating the possibility of killing off Clifford and stealing his brilliant new play to claim as his own.
That Clifford’s play is also called Deathtrap and is repeatedly described as “a one set, five character thriller” is a knowing wink and a nod to the audience that the action is operating on two levels: the straightforward thriller story; and ironic, self-referential commentary on the genre itself.
Derby Dinner’s production delivers the company’s customary excellence in production design and technical execution. There are some very specific staging requirements that make this one of the few instances where an “in-the-round” configuration must be abandoned, but it is the right, perhaps only, choice, and Ron Riall’s set fits the bill and then some. A very effective sound design and musical underscore is employed to emphasize the cinematic nature of the story.
I cannot help but feel that David Myers was somewhat miscast as Sidney. The Derby Dinner veteran brings his straightforward, robust manner to a role that requires both deviousness and a more subtle touch than is managed in this performance. Brian Bowman fares slightly better as Clifford, capturing the disingenuousness of the character; while Tina Jo Wallace does as well as she might by the underwritten Myra. Two other characters who appear – a psychic neighbor named Helga Ten Dorp (Elizabeth Loos) and Sidney’s lawyer, Porter Milgram (J.R. Stuart) – are delivered in appropriate measure. Ms. Loos is perhaps a little over-the-top as Helga, but the character is unquestionably defined by the author in very broad comic terms; while Mr. Stuart was a pleasant and well-timed presence in a role that is primarily plot device except for one bright comic scene with Helga.
Deathtrap ultimately seems a little old-fashioned, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s an example of a kind of entertainment that is rarely seen, a real “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” experience. As expertly staged as it is here, it still comes off as more quaint than thrilling. Opening night, the thrills played more strongly than the comedy; and if you have never seen it, there are a couple of jump-out-of-your-seat moments that work beautifully.
October 1- November 10, 2013
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Tickets (812) 288-8281