Holly’s poisonous, faulty lights can electrocute you, Christmas trees are firetraps, and watch out for salmonella lurking in that egg nog. The holidays can be murder.
That’s apparently the impetus for Everyman Theatre’s seasonal offering, Deathtrap, a jolly bit of skullduggery that puts the ho-ho-ho in homicide.
Director Vincent M. Lancisi leads the cast in this dexterously over-the-top staging of Ira Levin’s 1978 play, which became a popular 1982 movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve as murder-mystery writers who get, how shall we say, a little too involved in their craft.
The blood-red curtain parts to reveal a sumptuous converted garage in Westport, Connecticut—a writer’s dream of an office equipped with a handsome desk, sitting area, fireplace and walls festooned with displays of weaponry and whodunit theater posters by scenic designer Timothy R. Macabee.
Here sits famous mystery playwright Sidney Bruhl (Bruce Randolph Nelson), haunted by the specter of a blank white page. He hasn’t had a hit in years (“nothing recedes like success”) and is feeling rather desperate, not to mention emasculated, since his wife Myra (Beth Hylton) is using her money to keep them afloat.
When a manuscript from a former student comes over the transom—a thriller so perfect “even a good director couldn’t ruin it”—Sidney thinks not of collaboration, but of collusion. He ponders offing the young man, Clifford Anderson (Danny Gavigan), and passing off the play as his own.
Myra is horrified, yet strangely titillated by Sidney’s scheme. The awestruck yet ambitious Clifford shows up at the house, setting into motion a chain of events so twisty and unexpected Agatha Christie would be knocked off her parlor chair.
On the surface, the play looks conventional—one room, five characters, many of whom have a motive for murder. Yet, Levin delights you with witty repartee and zesty melodramatic dash of the characters’ behavior, almost lulling you into contentment until he springs the next whammy. And the next.
The whole thing is served up like a platter of gourmet ham, with the actors chewing the high-hat scenery with aplomb. And why not, since most of the plot points are accompanied by flourishes of screechy strings, like the most egregious of B-movie thrillers.
Closes January 11, 2015
315 W. Fayette St
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $36 – $60
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Hylton’s hyperventilating turn as Myra is vivid enough to give the audience palpitations and she seems to be the play’s lone, anxious voice of reason. Nelson contributes another stylish performance as the nefarious prig Sidney Bruhl. He gives the impression that Sidney isn’t a real threat, however, he shows that inside that softened visage lies a steel-trap mind and surprising physical vigor.
Similarly, Gavigan’s Clifford Anderson comes off at first with puppy-dog eagerness, but later reveals the cold, stony interior of a career survivor. Deborah Hazlett plays a neighboring psychic Helga Ten Dorp to the histrionic hilt—the grand gestures of a diva coupled with the timing of a Borscht Belt comic. Wil Love exudes lawyerly acumen as Sidney’s friend and legal counsel.
Deathtrap’s no vision of sugarplums, unless of course they are laced with cyanide. However, a glint of the dark may be just the ticket during the holiday rush. And that’s the fun of Deathtrap, a play-within-a-play that keeps you entertainingly off guard right up to the curtain call.
Deathtrap by Ira Levin . Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi . Featuring Danny Gavigan, Deborah Hazlett, Beth Hylton, Wil Love and Bruce Randolph Nelson . Produced by Everyman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.