Wednesday, September 13, 2017

WOBT: "Deathtrap"

Ira Levin's Deathtrap -- a staple of the thriller-comedy mold -- is playing at the Way Off Broadway Theatre in Prattville under Matthew Givens' direction. His cast of five veterans and newcomers maneuver the intricacies of Levin's script with assurance, keeping audiences engaged with its ever-increasing plot twists.

Having has a successful Broadway run in the late 1970s, and a 1982 film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, much of the plot is well-known; so for the sake of those uninitiated, there will be few spoilers here. Suffice it to say that things aren't always what they seem.

Sidney Bruhl [Roy Goldfinger] and his sickly wife Myra [Adria Winlock] live in a comfortable Connecticut retreat where he is trying to re-invigorate a fading career as a writer of smash Broadway thrillers. When a former student sends him a script of a play he calls "Deathtrap", Bruhl is impressed by its quality, and fantasizes that he could steal the script and pass it off as his own, even off-handedly considering killing off the younger man. -- He has an array of weapons hanging on the walls of his study in full view of the audience. And here is the classic Anton Chekhov foreshadowing: "If in the first act you have a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." -- Stay tuned.

Helga ten Dorp [Michon Givens], a psychic who is renting a neighboring house, pays a visit to the Bruhls and instantly senses danger and pain in the house, mentioning specific details that will play out later, and warning them to be careful.

When youthful playwright Clifford Anderson [Woody Joye] arrives on Sidney's invitation ostensibly to fine-tune the play to get it ready for Broadway, they agree to collaborate. -- But murder and deception rule the day with elaborate plot twists that keep us guessing what will happen next.

Bruhl's lawyer Porter Milgrim [West Marcus] voices his suspicions about the close relationship of the two men, and encourages Bruhl to fix his last will and testament before it's too late.

As the men collaborate, they act out various scenes of the script they're working on: the script that replicates the previous action of the very play we are seeing in the theatre, and which bring both plays to their appropriate conclusion.

Suspense is sustained through a tight control on the script by both director and cast. However, there are several lengthy scene breaks that leave the audience in darkness and without any music to underscore and keep them attentive; these lapses make each successive scene a challenge to reconnect. And traditional "stormy night" sequences that depend on dim lights and dark shadows for impact, were so brightly lit that the intended shocking action was disappointing.

Nonetheless, the opening night audience responded with enthusiasm, and the WOBT company should be proud of their accomplishments.