Just in time for the run up to Halloween, Director Carl Wallnau and friends have launched the Centenary Stage Company's Fall main stage production.... Ira Levin’s now classic master murder-mystery Deathtrap. As with the recent hilarious production of Ladies Man, Wallnau masterfully doubles as director and male lead. He is better than perfect as Sidney Bruhl the playwright with a severe case of writer's block with murder in his heart, or does he? Wallnau and the four other cast members, including his wife (Colleen Smith Wallnau) are having a romp ('a jolly good time'...the Brits would say) in this devilishly delicious thriller.
Deathtrap holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway and was also nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. It nicely follows last season's excellent production of London's longest running classic murder mystery Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap (Have we spotted a "Trap" trend?). Deathtrap is one of those marvelous thrillers where nothing is ever what it appears to be. It has more curves than a ski mogul. The extensive plot twists, of course, present a major challenge to any reviewer. How far into the plot outline do you take the reader? Plus, of course, it is very familiar territory to many theatre and film fans. The excellent 1982 film starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon has become a tv staple.
We should stress that unless you have viewed Deathtrap very recently, expect to be surprised in how many plot twists you have forgotten. We found that the viewing of this superior production is like a delightful, highly entertaining visit with an old friend.
All of the action of Deathtrap takes place in the rather rustic/barn like study in the home of Sidney Bruhl and his wife Myra in Westport, Connecticut. The year is 1978. Sidney is a once successful mystery writer with a number of Broadway winners, but his last four plays have flopped. He has suffered for many months from dwindling income, as reminded daily by his wife, due to a crippling case of writer's block. His fortune appears to change, however, when he receives in the mail an unsolicited mystery play, Deathtrap. It has been sent by a student who had attended a seminar Bruhl conducted at a nearby college. Bruhl immediately declares to his wife that Deathtrap is an almost perfect mystery that could possibly earn the author two million dollars in royalties. He quickly invites the young student playwright to visit ostensibly to simply discuss the script. To go any further takes us into "spoiler" territory.
The play is presented in two acts. The superior cast of five includes: Carl Wallnau as Sidney Bruhl; Centenary Stage veteran Maria Brodeur as Myra, Sidney's wife; Jon Mulhearn, who was in last season's Mousetrap, as the young student Clifford Anderson; Colleen Smith Wallnau as the pscyhic neighbor Helga Ten Dorp; and the experienced actor/director Paul Whelihan making his CSC debut as Buhl's attorney Porter Milgrim. Jon Mulhearn's young student presents a nice contrast to Wallnau's experienced veteran playwright. Possibly, having the most fun with her role is Colleen Smith Wallnau.
A major contributor to the success of CSC's Deathtrap is the Bruhl study set. Award-winning set designer Bob Phillips has created a dramatic room furnished with a handsome desk and other comfortable country style pieces appropriate for an upscale county house. The plaid papered walls are covered with posters of Bruhl's Broadway plays and his framed collection of weapons, both antique and props from his murder mysteries.
The one minor quibble with the play is that some of the upstage dialogue apparently doesn't always carry to the back row. It was not a problem we had noticed, however, we overheard several more senior members of the audience indicate that they had missed a few lines at the front door and side patio doors.
Bottom line: Centenary Stage Company's Deathtrap is a clever, twisting tale, with ample surprises even to past viewers, delivered by an excellent cast. It's great fun, with a nice sprinkling of laughs laced with chilling moments....go and enjoy.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 5, 2013
The 18 member creative staff includes: director Carl Wallnau; set design Bob Phillips; light design Ed Matthews; sound design Colin Whitely; costume design Julia Sharp; properties Dani Pietrowski; fight coordinator Stephen Davis; and stage manage Melissa A. Nathan.
Deathtrap will run until October 20th at The Centenary Stage Company's comfortable 500 seat Sitnik Theatre in The David and Carol Lackland Center in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
Tickets for Deathtrap range from $25 to $27.50 with discounts for students and seniors. Every Thursday night is “Family Night,” which offers a 2-for-1 rush ticket price when purchased at the door. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There are 2 p.m. matinées Wednesdays October 9th and 16th.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.centenarystageco.org, at the CSC Box Office located in the David and Carol Lackland Center at 715 Grand Ave in Hackettstown, or by calling 908-979-0900. The Box Office is open 1-5 PM Monday through Friday, and 2 hours prior to performance times.