Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Ross Valley Players
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of When We Were Young and Unafraid and How I Learned What I Learned and Jeanie's review of Moon Over Buffalo

Amber Collins Crane, Bryce Smith,
and Gregory Crane

Photo by Robin Jackson
Premiering in 1978, Ira Levin's comic thriller Deathtrap was an immediate hit and has been around the community and regional theatre block many times since. As stated in its own dialogue, it's such a surefire script that "even a director can't hurt it," and is still a winner with audiences for its disarming wit and devious plot twists. Ross Valley Players is mounting a thoroughly entertaining version, one that will charm you with laughs and thrills even if you've seen the play before.

Director Chloe Bronzan has opted to set the play back in time to the 1960s, paying homage to Hitchcock's indelible influence on the genre of thrillers—a smart concept, since his works are referenced in Levin's script, held up as masters to model for the two main characters who are attempting to write their own hit plays.

Acclaimed but fading playwright Sidney (Gregory Crane) and Clifford (Bryce Smith) apparently met in a workshop Sidney ran for aspiring writers, leading to Clifford mailing a draft of his latest work to Sidney for feedback. But Sidney rails over the script, titled "Deathtrap," as it's so brilliant he's instantly jealous and depressed at the thought of its imminent success. Sidney's wife Myra (Amber Collins Crane), ever supportive both with funds and vicarious ambition, attempts to soothe his dismay, but also reveals her fear of how far hubby might go to alter the play's path to Broadway for his own benefit.

And ... that's about all one can say without spoilers for this clever script filled with surprises, twists and turns. There's a good dose of comedy along the way, as well as jump-out-of-your-seat and "aha!" moments. It's a lot of fun for both theatre company and audiences, and still packs a persuasive thriller punch.

Gregory Crane and Bryce Smith adeptly carry much of the play as the two main characters, including being careful not to telegraph those tricky plot twists before they arrive, and managing loads of physical action. Amber Collins Crane channels Tippi Hedren, stoic as the long-suffering but conflicted wife, giving us intriguing glimpses into a troubled marriage. Marsha van Broek delights as the psychic neighbor Helga, her short scenes providing comic relief and a touch of the zany. Tom Reilly plays attorney (and wannabe writer) Porter Milgrim, who adds a note of supposedly boring reality, nicely hiding his true colors.

While Tom O'Brien's scenic design ably fulfills the description of converted stable, with requisite doors and ample playing space, the blue hue of the wood stain renders an exceedingly dark set overall. Perhaps it's thought to be Hitchcovian? But it's a bit relentlessly blue. Tina Johnson's lighting design wonderfully captures nighttime and thunderstorms, focusing our gaze when it's needed. Costumes by Michael A. Berg serve the concept beautifully, especially for Myra and Gregory. Bruce Vieira's cinematic sound design adds intrigue and suspense to the action, and Dhyanis Carniglia furnishes amazing props. Fight choreographer Richard Squeri does a superb job with the many varied requirements for action. Bronzan misses some comedic opportunities and hasn't perfected her blocking yet, but the concept and all-around action work well to deliver the demands of the script.

Laughter, gasps, and even screams bear happy testimony to the audience experience for Levin's iconic work, still offering up its scary surprises after all these years. It's a fun ride for a winter's evening.

Deathtrap, through February 17, 2019, at Ross Valley Players, The Barn Theater, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Tickets $12.00 - $27.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 415-456-9555.