Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Ira Levin's Deathtrap A Literate, Witty Thriller
Handsomely Revived

Also see Bob's review of Honeymoon in Vegas

Carl Wallnau
It's been eighteen years since our playwright Sidney Bruhl burst upon the Broadway scene with the smash hit mystery The Murder Game. He has since suffered the indignity of four flops, and he is fresh out of ideas. Largely on her inherited money, Bruhl and his supportive wife Myra are still living well in their lovely Westport, Connecticut, home, but money is running short. However, Bruhl has an idea that might revive his fortunes. A student from a playwriting course that he teaches at a nearby college has sent Bruhl a new play—a thriller—that Bruhl is certain is a brilliant sure-fire Broadway hit ("Even a gifted director couldn't hurt it"). With Myra's assistance, Bruhl devises a plan to offer to collaborate with his former student on the script. However, Bruhl has another idea in mind, and that is to invite the young man, Clifford Anderson, to his home, murder him, and steal his play. When Clifford arrives at the Westport railway station, Bruhl is intentionally late in picking him up so that no one will see him do so. Bruhl, who had already established that he has the only carbon copy extant, asks Clifford to bring the original typewritten original ostensively because he has difficulty reading the smudged carbon, and all his notes to aid in a their discussion of the play.

And I shall tell you no more of what transpires in Ira Levin's 1978 (ah, no wonder a typewriter and a carbon copy) Broadway smash hit thriller Deathtrap which is now on the Centenary Stage Company stage in a juicy, high caliber revival production. That original Broadway production had an extraordinary run of more than four years and 1,799 performances.

Centenary Artistic Director Carl Wallnau (who appeared in the musical Storyville at Manhattan's York Theatre this summer) is a feverishly intense and hot-tempered Sidney Bruhl. If Wallnau were doing Chekov, his performance would be over the top, but here it is just what the doctor ordered. Wallnau takes his Bruhl to an effective melodramatic top without ever descending into camp or risibility.

Maria Brodeur is most appealing as Bruhl's loyal and giving Myra. Jon Mulhearn is a totally natural and convincing Clifford Anderson. Colleen Smith Wallnau provides laughter as Helga Ten Dorp, the Bruhl's next door neighbor, a Dutch psychic whose appearance on "The Merv Griffin Show" was a disaster, and Paul Whelihan is most likeable as the Bruhl's friend and lawyer.

The set design by Bob Phillips is extraordinary. It depicts a stable that has been built into the Bruhl's Westport house and converted into an office for Sidney Bruhl. The wide sliding stable door opens into the house itself. Its wide, heavy wooden beams (that is how they appear) give the set the feel of being solidly built-in and deeply dimensional. The set decorations (thick material hanging wall covers, theatre window cards for Bruhl's plays, and about forty mostly antique weapons including axes, mace, chains, daggers, swords, rifles, a machine gun, pistols and a crossbow) and quality furniture including an antique desk could not be more impressive.

Carl Wallnau brings as sure and grand a touch to directing Deathtrap as he does to performing the role of Bruhl. He makes certain that every thrilling moment and plot twist are delivered with maximum impact.

Deathtrap is full of witty references to plays and the Broadway theatre which delight and amuse us. A considerable part of the play's success is how thoroughly it incorporates the act of playwriting and the art of the stage thriller. Levin delights us by letting us know that he knows that his Deathtrap isn't anything more than a high voltage game that he is inviting us to play. When Levin wins the game (and he surely does) by scaring, surprising and entertaining us, we have all won.

Deathtrap continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesdays & Sunday 2 pm) through October 20, 2013, at Centenary Stage Company at the Sitnik Theatre in the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840. Box Office: 908-9794297; online:

Deathtrap by Ira Levin; directed by Carl Wallnau

Sidney Bruhl…………………..Carl Wallnau
Myra Bruhl………………….Maria Brodeur
Clifford Anderson…………...Jon Mulhearn
Helga Ten Dorp…...Colleen Smith Wallnau
Porter Milgrim……………..Paul Whelihan

Photo: Rob Hom

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