Everyman Theatre presents Deathtrap, the play with so many twists and turns it is sure to make anyone dizzy. This production, directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, is exciting, fast-paced and thrilling – I welcomed all the suspense, giddiness and unbridled joy of the Everyman Deathtrap experience. I’ve seen Deathtrap before, but this production was like I was seeing it for the first time.
Ira Levin wrote Deathtrap with only one set and five characters. It opened on Broadway in February of 1978 to rave reviews and closed four years later with the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and was also adapted into a film starring Christopher Reeve in 1982.
The night I attended Deathtrap, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, and that is the way it should be.
Without giving away too much of the plot, the play centers on a famous playwright, Sidney Bruhl, who is suffering from chronic writers block.He receives a play in the mail from one of his former students, and he is convinced this play will be the next big Broadway hit.When his student shows up at Bruhl’s remote house with the only two copies of the play in existence, Bruhl realizes it is good enough to kill for.
To perform any “whodunnit” on the stage is difficult. Many pieces must align to thrill a live audience, and Lancisi and his team do it effortlessly and skillfully. For starters, there is the set of Sidney’s study designed by Timothy R. Mackabee. A few walls are covered with framed posters of previous hit plays by Bruhl, and the rest of the walls are lined with large battle axes, daggers, crossbows and swords – weapons that served as inspirations for his murder mystery plays. The lighting and the sound, designed by Jesse Belsky and Stowe Nelson respectively, showed the various crucial and subtle changes in mood, including thunderstorms. The use of weapons must be realistic if the audience is to be kept spellbound, and thanks to Lewis Shaw, the actors were very believable.
The most important element is, of course, the actors. Because there are only five characters in the entire play, there can be no weak links or else the mystery won’t work. No worries – each resident actor held his or her own. Bruce Randolph Nelson plays Sidney Bruhl, who is on stage for almost the entire play. Nelson never wavered in his dedication to his character, and never once lost focus or energy. It was only when someone directly behind me coughed about an hour into the play that realized I was so completely caught up in the action that I forgot I was sitting in a theatre full of people. Danny Gavigan as the writing student, Clifford Anderson, perfectly portrayed a young man who has many layers and might not be as dumb as he looks. Beth Hylton as Sidney’s wife, Myra Bruhl, does a great job as a doting wife who might not be as smart as she thinks she is.
Deborah Hazlett as the over-the-top psychic, Helga Ten Dorp, has great comic timing, and her character adds welcome humor to the tense plot. The same goes for Wil Love as Sidney’s lawyer Porter Milgrim. The only problem I had with these two actors is that their roles were limited; I would have liked more time on stage for them.
The night I attended Deathtrap, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, and that is the way it should be. This is one of the best productions I have seen … ever.
Advisory: Adult language and situations, and the use of stage blood.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Deathtrap runs though January 11, 2015 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets call 410.752.2208 or click here.