Monday, October 1, 2012
Theater review: Deathtrap at Richardson Theatre Centre
We hear it totally kills.
RICHARDSON Deathtrap is a thriller, with a little comedy sprinkled throughout the plot twists, suspense of conspiracy, and a murder or two. It made its Broadway debut in 1978 and was nominated for a Tony award the same year. The show enjoyed a four-year run, closing in 1982, after which a movie adaptation was produced starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine, and Dyan Cannon.
In the play, Sidney Bruhl is an aging playwright who has a little writer’s block and an idea for turning things around. Clifford Anderson is a young playwright invited by Sidney to his home to discuss possible modifications to his own play entitled Deathtrap. In a play-within-a-play style, the real plot is revealed through transitions that will have you on the edge of your seat, trying to predict how the show will end.
In Richardson Theatre Centre’s production, director Bill Sizemore put together a small but talented cast who successfully pulled off the numerous facets of their characters. It was a delight to witness the cast as they revealed the true nature of their characters, piece by piece. The script is extremely well written and I found myself wishing I could watch the show over again just to catch nuances that I probably missed as I was so engaged in the progression of the show.
The set was detailed and authentic. The furnishings and décor were believably contained within a converted stable attached to an older home. The items found throughout the set were well planned, right down to the somewhat haphazard arrangement of books in the bookshelf. Prominently displayed in the center of the room over the fireplace was an assortment of weapons that spoke to the dedication of Properties Manager, Jenny Tucker. The play was written in the late '70s, which could explain the two old typewriters and rotary phone, but the rest of the décor and costumes could have been from any time period. As the lights faded to begin the show, it was easy to feel like we were lurking in the corners of Sidney Bruhl’s study.
Branson White performed triple duty as stage manager and lighting and sound designer. I have to say that the lighting design, in particular, contributed to the show throughout and was a vital character itself. The first striking lighting feature was during blackouts when the very prominent mantel full of weapons continued to be lit in a menacing way. Additionally, the lightning outside the windows during the thunderstorm was well planned and involved every window in the house. Lastly, during Scene Two of Act Two, the use of lightning illuminating the room during a power outage added suspense as the show came to its climax. The only thing that confused me about the lighting was that, regardless of the time of day, the windows revealed only darkness outside.
Costume design by Bill Sizemore consisted of slacks and buttoned shirts for the men and stylish blouse and slacks for Myra. The costumes could have been from the late '70s or early '80s, but also could easily have been representative of modern-day attire, with those styles coming back into vogue. The dresses worn by Janette Oswald in her portrayal of Helga Ten Dorp were especially fun, with bright prints and flowing lines that mimicked the colorful character.
Nelson Wilson was convincing as Sidney Bruhl. His subtle changes in facial expressions continued his characterization in the absence of words. I couldn’t decide whether I liked or feared Bruhl, despite the obvious evil that was behind his words. Bruhl is a character with depth, and Wilson’s experience showed as he skillfully revealed the layers throughout the play.
Brian Grunkowski’s portrayal of Clifford Anderson also showed depth. Deceptively nice, his facial expressions and occasional allusions to a sordid past gave the impression of a touch of darkness, if not insanity, beneath the façade. In Act One, there were times that the combination of Grunkowski and Wilson proved to be powerful, as simple looks exchanged between the men could be seen as an indicator of the plans that were being executed.
Oswald’s performance as Helga Ten Dorp, the German psychic who lives next door, was colorful and entertaining. Ten Dorp provides much of the comic relief in the show, and Oswald delivered her lines with great timing and a consistently theatrical German accent.
Judy Sizemore played the part of Sidney Bruhl’s wife Myra, who had been supporting her husband both financially and emotionally for years. Her portrayal of a hyperventilating and nervous woman came across well, and her movements as she was startled by events and noises were convincing.
The Bruhl’s attorney and aspiring playwright, Porter Milgrim, was played by Andrew Burns. Burns’ portrayal was appropriate in being a counselor, friend, and admirer of Bruhl.
Overall, the ensemble worked well together to create the necessary suspense of this timeless thriller. I highly recommend a watch, and soon, as the show closes October 14.
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