Stage Review: Deathtrap

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I visited an old friend last night: Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, which is the current offering at North Park Vaudeville and Candy Shop. This is a playwright’s play, i.e., a play about a play about . … Director Terie Trenchard obviously had fun staging this piece.

Once successful playwright Sidney Bruhl, Jonathan Wexler, is long on intrigue and short on new ideas. He enlists Clifford Anderson, Nick Louie, whom Bruhl recently met after one of his talks to new playwrights, to work with him. Simple. Straightforward. Well, not quite. Levin’s opus has more twists and turns than the road to Julian.

There are so many murders that there is no way anybody will be alive for a curtain call. Jeff Bushnell’s set is a delight. Bruhl’s collection of weapons adorns a wall of his study. It’s quite a collection: several pistols, a variety of axes and swords, and a menacing mace. Bruhl’s den also includes his desk, a sitting area, several small tables, and even a fireplace.

We first meet the Bruhls, Sidney and his wife Myra, Cheryl Livingston, talking in the den. Their conversation sets up the subsequent action, or does it? You be the judge. We find that Sidney is having writer’s block . . . for a few years. They seem to have gone through much of Myra’s estate. Their conversation tends to be an intensely stagy, rather than a serious discussion. Livingston is convincing as the somewhat put-upon wife, who is hiding some serious anxiety. Wexler gives Sidney a rather brutish interpretation at times – a possible reaction to the frustration of writer’s block.

Almost everybody has a neighbor that tends to poke his or her nose into their personal life. Few, fortunately, have a Helga Ten Dorp, Diane Malloy. Helga has ESP. She senses evil and death. Malloy is a delight as a totally eccentric busybody. Costumed in an array of jewelry and flowing, sparkling dresses, her entrances are a flurry of activity. As would be expected by her character, she totally dominates her scenes.

Sidney Bruhl’s life would not be complete without a friendly lawyer, one Porter Milgrim, played by Brian Burke. Burke, while portraying a friend as well as a lawyer, becomes quite lawyerly when going over details about wills, estates, and the like. Every person involved in fictional and non-fictional homicide needs a man of Milgrim’s abilities. Burke also has an amusing meeting with Malloy that is definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Director Trenchard has crafted Ira Levin’s humorous opus of mayhem and murder nicely within the confines of North Park Vaudeville’s small stage. I felt that the whole production could have been tightened up, as the timing wavered. The casting of Malloy and Burke in the two minor, but pivotal roles is excellent. While the play is uneven, there are delightful moments. The various murder scenes (ah yes, several) are very well staged.

Cast

Jonathan Wexler, Nick Louie, Cheryl Livingston, Diane Malloy, and Brian Burke

Technical Staff

Jeff Bush

Total Rating: Two stars

Genre: Drama

Author: Ira Levin

Director: Terie Trenchard

Date Reviewed: September 15, 2007

Dates: Friday and Saturday, September 14 through October 6, 2007.

Running Time 130 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

North Park Vaudeville and Candy Shop – An Independent Theater

San Diego, California

Box Office Phone 619 647-4958

Website www.northparkvaudeville.com

Robert Hitchcox is a playwright, critic and fiction author, who reviews live theatre.