At Victoria Hall Theater, Saturday, March 4.
Deathtrap is Ira Levin’s best work, a play that set the standard for hip, high-velocity comic thrillers back when it premiered on Broadway in 1978. This production, which features Ed Giron in the central role as the cynical, murderous playwright Sidney Bruhl, cranks up the suspense and generates some real excitement in the reversal sequences. It’s a challenge to create the kind of freshness and surprise that makes a show like this work, but with an able cast and the direction of Cybele Foraker, it mostly succeeds. The show ran smoothly, delivering the laughs and lurches of the alternately funny and scary script in just the right places.
The tense relations between Sidney Bruhl and his wife Myra, played by Kathy Marden, dominate the first act. Sidney has a plan involving another man and a potentially valuable first play, and Myra wants nothing to do with it. Marden brought a mixture of resignation and mischievousness to her portrayal that seemed just right, while Giron gave a forceful and polished performance in the lead, using his well-trained voice to pace the dynamics and give the entire production a steady, forward momentum. Geren Piltz plays the young man, Clifford Anderson, with great humor and physical intelligence.
Deathtrap hinges on revelations that would be inadvisable to reveal in a review. At the risk of spoiling one of these shockers, it’s interesting to note that the play’s attitude toward the potential variety of human sexuality has begun to seem dated, but not necessarily in a bad way. Like those riddles that rely on the likelihood that the listener will fail to imagine a woman in the role of, say, a doctor, the play uses homosexuality as a different kind of trap, the sort that beckons whenever the setup on stage threatens to become overly familiar. The fact that Deathtrap holds up so well today has a lot to do with the fact that this trick, now perhaps less effective as sheer surprise, remains a powerful basis for the remaining scenes in the drama. Perhaps we are more aware of our preconceptions than we used to be, but the jarring impact of the gay perspective in theater continues. Jennifer Gimblin has fun with the role of psychic Helga Ten Dorp, touching the proceedings with fanciful comedy, by turns broad and dry. It’s a fair cop, or psychic, who can see through this Deathtrap.