Set in 1978, director William Osetek and his talented troupe take us back to a time before email, flash drives, or social media, within the confined walls of the twisted psychological thriller, Deathtrap, now playing at the Drury Lane Theatre. Holding the distinction as the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway, playing for over four years, Deathtrap is a one set, two act, five character, rollercoaster ride of a thriller. This twisted crime story was penned by playwright Ira Levin, who also scribed Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and The Stepford Wives (1972) so he knows a thing or two about creating suspense within a murder mystery. Deathtrap was next adapted into a film in 1982, featuring Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, with Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon. The Drury has now transformed its stage into a luxurious, two story home, spectacularly crafted by scenic designer, Jeff Kmiec. The lush setting would soon house a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, a whodunit play within a play. Set in Connecticut during October, Deathtrap is far more a Halloween inspired trick than candied treat.
The story unfolded in the living room of Award-winning Broadway author, Sidney Bruhl (Daniel Cantor ) a fading talent, desperate to reclaim the public’s interest and unbridled fame and all that comes with it. Broadway marquee posters of his previous hit plays, as well as an extensive collection of macabre weaponry, pepper the décor of his living room. While waiting for his next wave of inspiration to strike, and to help fill his time, Sidney teaches seminars to aspiring playwrights. This neurotic mentor receives a call from a most promising young student who has written a play Sidney knows will be a guaranteed hit. Sidney’s wife, Myra (McKinley Carter) concocts a plan to return Sidney to the A list. He can claim “ghost writer” on this project and share in the ample royalties as a co-writer of the book. After all, with his already established connections, Sidney’s involvement will garner much more attention to this riveting new piece. Sidney’s plan, however, is far more fatalistic than simply pure plagiarism. He invited the fledgling and unknown writer, Clifford Anderson (Aaron Latterell) to his home, under the pretense they would be discussing his promising material, but with the sinister plan to actually murder him and claim Cliff’s work as his own. Since this is 1978, there are no back up files, the hard copy the writer sent to his mentor is the only physical copy of the play. A single typewriter was the only firsthand witness to Clifford’s writing progression. Needless to say, as the double crosses and threats turn inevitably violent, this is not a spoiler, Matt Hawkins’ fight choreography is grade A. After slowly building suspense for about an hour, the disturbing climax of act one was a conclusion which inspired numerous, audible gasps and screams from members of the audience in attendance.
Act two certainly maintains the tension between Sidney and Clifford, but the tone is significantly lightened with the addition of nosey neighbor and comedic scene stealer, psychic Helga ten Dorp (Cindy Gold) who dropped by to share her uproarious and fear-provoking visions. Gold is a one-woman fury of funny, and such an asset to the proceedings. Rounding out the quintet cast, Porter Milgrim (Marty Lodge) who has a delightfully wicked 11th hour scene with Gold, which must be seen to be appreciated. Accenting this single room set, dramatic lighting designed by Heather Gilbert. Carefully placed spotlights and haze assist to make the things that go bump in the night a continuous thrill ride for the audience. Costume designer Sally Dolembo aesthetic was far more glamourous than traditional seventies garb, with Carter’s white suit, worn at the beginning of the play, a lovely standout.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer is at the heart of the complex and multifaceted thriller, Deathtrap. Gradually building up tension to a satisfying and scary, explosive climax, shifting allegiances constantly on display, Deathtrap will keep you guessing up until the very end. Whether giggling with the often witty banter, or holding on to the edge of your seat in suspense at the more dire moments, Drury Lane’s Deathtrap is a rousing thriller.
Deathtrap is now playing at the Drury Lane Theatre through August 14, 2016.