“Deathtrap” (presented by Great Lakes Theater and playing at the Hanna Theater) holds the enviable record of being the longest running Broadway comedy-thriller with 1,793 performances and a Tony nomination. The show was originally written by Ira Levin and is directed by Charles Fee. It premiered on Broadway in 1978 and was later made into a hit movie in 1982 starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon.
It is always a risk to take on a project such as this. You have a mystery that pretty much everyone knows the secret to (or one would think). However, with this production it is the strength of the acting that carries the play. Having personally seen the play and the movie before, I was still shocked and awed during the dramatic surprises and laughed at all the funny lines. That tells volumes about the acting skills at work here with Great Lakes Theater.
Coupled with this is the phenomenal set designed by Russell Metheny. The two-story tall hunting lodge in 3D has weapons galore hanging on the walls, a working fireplace, sumptuous appointments and a spacious elegance that wows even before you sit down. The lighting (by Rick Martin) is well balanced and the thunderstorm has you involuntarily ducking your head for cover. Sound by Richard B. Ingraham gets high points for its balance for soft dialog up to thunderous tempest.
The story itself has more convoluted twists and turns than a horseshoe shaped corkscrew. Sidney Bruhl (Tom Ford) is a formerly highly sought after mystery thriller playwright who has hit a dry spell of successive flops. Add to this his writer’s block and failing marriage to Myra Bruhl (Tracee Patterson), who is his main means of support, and you have the ingredients for murder stew.
After teaching a writing seminar (which he abhors and only does for some spending money), he receives a script from one of his students, Clifford Anderson (Nick Steen). It is a better than good play, it is a great play. Sidney muses to his wife that as desperate as he for a hit he could easily kill for the chance. He then phones Clifford with an invitation to “come down to the lodge” for a consultation.
It soon becomes clear that the only copies of this masterpiece are with Clifford and the only people who know of the existence of the play are Sidney and Myra. The plot suddenly escalates and to Myra’s horror, Sidney…
Ooops, don’t want to give too much away here. Just rest assured that foul deeds are done and retribution is at hand. Rounding out the mix of characters are a psychic, Helga Ten Dorp (Lynn Allison) and Sidney’s Attorney (Aled Davies). There is also the wall of weapons (props from Sidney’s string of successes), an illicit love affair, greed, murder, guns, a working fireplace, a thunder storm, dramatic blackouts, a crossbow and a play idea whose evil takes over everyone involved …and absolutely superb acting.
Tom Ford as Sidney elicits no thoughts of pity. He is a man who has set his course and will receive his just deserts in the end. Tracee Patterson as Myra is the long suffering wife who has had to support her husband all these years as his star fades. Nick Steen as Clifford brings total believability to the role as the seemingly naïve young playwright hoping to cash in on his mentor’s former name. Lynn Allison as Helga plays her role with unabashed seriousness and as a result gets the loudest laughs. Aled Davies as Porter brings a few surprises of his own, especially in the final few minutes of the thriller.
Prude Alert: There are hints of homosexuality with man on man kissing as well as murder, mayhem and some quite intense scenes that may be too much for very young children or overly sensitive adults.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): Whether or not you have seen this work in any form, the Great Lakes Theater production of “Deathtrap” will still thrill you with its superb acting and finely tuned dramatic surprises. If you have not been shocked lately (in a good way), a great experience awaits you at the Hanna Theatre.
Tickets are $13.00 to $70.00 (Students $13.00) and may be purchased by going on line at http://www.greatlakestheater.org/tickets/shows/deathtrap, by calling (216) 241-6000 or by stopping by the PlayhouseSquare ticket office.
The play runs through March 16, 2014. Show times are 7:30 Wednesday through Saturday with matinees on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.