From the imagination of the man behind Rosemary’s Baby comes one of Broadway’s longest running mystery thrillers: Deathtrap. In his Director’s Note, Andrew JM Regiec expressed the special place that Levin’s play holds in his heart: “I ventured into NYC on my own for the first time to see a Broadway show—Deathtrap…Poor timing to learn the lesson of the impact live theatre can have on you… I don’t think I’ve ever walked so far so fast without looking anyone in the eye!”
…the attention to detail that makes this play a real joy to watch.
Once you walk into the spacious Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, nestled in the heart of Arlington, Virginia, you are met by mug shots of each actor, and detailed renderings of the exquisitely detailed set designed by director Andrew JM Reigic. The lights go dim, a voice comes over to tell you to “silence all cell phones and if you’re sitting next to a stranger please feel free to clutch your armrests.” It’s easy to believe that we’ve arrived to view a play whose preface claims that it is “something so evil that it infects all who touch it.”
Deathtrap opens with playwright Sydney Bruhl lamenting to his wife Myra about the superior quality of a play that a former student has written and sent to him. It becomes clear that it has been a while since Sydney has written anything comparable to his former successes, and that he is envious of this new student’s play. As they’re talking, Myra asks if he would ever kill someone to repeat his previous successes, and Sydney has to think about it. What follows is Sydney’s answer to that question.
Zell Murphy stars as the brooding playwright Sydney Bruhl, who insists that “nothing recedes like success.” He shines most in the scene where he tries to comfort his wife after he has committed murder, and in the scenes he plays opposite Sam Nystrom, as Sydney’s former student Clifford Anderson, whose “heart is as far from fraud as heaven is from Earth.” The fight scenes between the two actors, choreographed by Jeffrey Miller, were especially frightening.
Jennifer Lyons Pagnard excels as Myra Bruhl, Sydney’s loving, afflicted wife, her scenes of heightened emotion are believably terrifying. For comic relief, there is the hilarious Gayle Nichols- Grimes, as the Bruhls’ Dutch psychic neighbor, who lights up the stage when she enters, and also with Bernard Engel, as Sydney’s oblivious lawyer Porter Milgrim in a performance that would make his seven grandchildren proud!
Firmly rooted in its late 70s setting, the set could’ve been ripped right out of the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Complete with oaken boards, a realistically painted stone fireplace, conceived by Mary Speed, and authentic seventies era furniture, compliments of Janet Devine Smith, including a beautiful wooden partner desk that comes in the second act. The gallery of weapons calls to mind Anton Chekov’s famous note “If a gun is seen in the first act, it had better go off in the second act” and also reinforces central idea of random acts of violence, maybe even the idea of violence as instinct.
Laura Fontaine reflects the subtlety of the characters through her 70s fashion pieces. The caring, understanding wife in cool blue paisley, the innocuous Anderson in fuzzy white sweater, and the cold and cruel underhanded husband in greys and blacks. Joanne Lee Stableford comes all the way from Down Under to transport the actors into 1970s with dos for the women that would make Farah Fawcett proud.
Richard Farella juggled Assistant Director and Sound Designer, greeting the audience with some funky 70s pop music before the curtain, and bringing forth a terrible lightning storm in the second act. Ken and Patti Crowley supplied the lightning and lit up the pivotal fireplace, which glowered at the audience like a play consuming demon.
In short, it’s the attention to detail that makes this play a real joy to watch. From the charming overhead announcement to the individual weapons that litter the stage—from the authenticity of the costume pieces to the “I am psychic” salute that Nichols-Grimes gives her Helga, it all creates a world complete and whole within itself.
Or is it—perhaps—that its charm comes from its ability to infect everyone who touches it with a case of “thilleritus malignus?” It has certainly spread like a contagion through the Arlington Players and their audience.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and twenty minutes.
Advisory: Adult language and staged violence.
Deathtrap runs at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre thru February 13, 2016. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the Arlington Players website by clicking here.