Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Ira Levin's 1978 play is a suspense thriller, but what it really is is a play about writing a play called Deathtrap. (It's also about writers' egos and who gets the royalties. These turn out to be life and death matters.) It opens with down-on-his-luck playwright Sidney Bruhl reading a play supposedly written by a seminar student of his named Clifford Anderson. The first line is: "A two-act, five-character, single set play." This is not just a description of the student's play. It's the play that we're watching, the play that will be written by the characters as we watch them act out what Mr. Levin has in store for them.
Levin is generous in acknowledging that his Deathtrap is indebted to older plays in the suspense genre. He mentions Angel Street (better known as Gaslight), Dial M for Murder, and Sleuth (sometimes confused with Deathtrap, probably because Michael Caine was in both movies). What Levin adds to the genre is cleverness and wit while keeping the thrills. The audience is being gaslighted, but having a jolly good time along the way. I really think it would be unfair to first-time viewers to give any more details of the storyline. As with most mysteries, the less you know up front, the better. Suffice it to say that, as the play unfolds, you will discover what's real and what's a deception. (Hint: There's a lot of deception going on.)
This production, directed by Henry Avery, is commendable for several reasons. The set by Nick Fleming perfectly captures the writer's studio converted from an old barn attached to an upscale house in Connecticut. There is an impressive array of weaponry on the walls, supplied by props designer Lando Ruiz: guns, swords, knives, a crossbow, a mace, and more pieces collected by Sidney Bruhl when his plays were still successful. Which of these will be used? Just wait and see.
The acting by the five cast members is top notch. Jeff Mocho doesn't have a showy part, and he plays it just right. Ceptembre Anthony-Tedesco, on the other hand, has the most over-the-top role as Helga ten Dorp, the Dutch psychic who happens to be staying temporarily in a house next door to the Bruhls. It's a part that can accommodate over-acting, and she really delivers, in a delightful way. Fawn Hanson, who joined the cast just a few weeks before opening, does a fine job as Myra Bruhl, Sidney's unfortunate (in more ways than one) wife. I really felt for her.
Dehron Foster has played the role of Sidney in at least two other productions, so it's no wonder that he is so at home in it, tossing off wisecracks as if they were not scripted. Sidney is a despicable character, but Dehron makes him entertainingly so. Josh Johnson is terrific as Clifford, the seminar student who turns out to be more than just a student. This is the first time I've seen this actor in a major role. He is perfectly natural on stage, and I hope to see more work from him soon.
Henry Avery has directed Deathtrap before and his experience shows. The pace never flags and the acting is excellent. Mention should also be made of fight choreographer Westin Huffman because the fight scenes come off as unrehearsed, which is a compliment.
Deathtrap is a play of its time, and also ahead of its time. It has aged well and is well worth seeing. It doesn't matter if you've seen the movie. Live theater is better.
Deathtrap runs through November 20, 2022, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Extra shows on Saturday November 12 at 2:00 and Thursday November 17 at 7:30. For tickets and information, please visit www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org.