Peggy Sue Dunigan
Review

Deathtrap at Sunset Playhouse

By - Oct 28th, 2009 01:00 pm
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deathtrapIs there anyone who can love a murderer? A frightful mystery addresses this question in the play Deathtrap, now playing at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove. This popular production, originally written by award-winning author Ira Levin, once filled Broadway venues continually for a four-year run before becoming a movie in 1982.

The story specifically envisions the 1980s, a decade when cell phones, MP3 players and computers were virtually non-existent in the home. As a result, the script references to Smith Corona typewriters and rotary phones appear almost archaic today.

J. Michael Desper, the set and technical designer, presents a stage filled with old Connecticut ambiance: fireplaces, antique desks and an impressive collection of weapons. The handcuffs, mace, daggers and revolvers also serve as props to inspire the main character, playwright Sidney Bruhl, as he creates his successful mysteries.

However, Bruhl (played by Paul Troglia) now struggles with writer’s block after one success and four missteps in producing his plays. His wife Myra (Donna Daniels) has donated her wealth to sustain his career during an 11-year marriage. As their income vanishes, Bruhl’s desperation heightens in the first act.

In a chance encounter at a playwriting seminar, Bruhl meets Clifford Anderson (Mark R. Neufang), who offers renewed hope and inspiration but with an unexpected plot twist. Helga Ten Dorp (Sally Marks) enters to provide comic relief by portraying a psychic visiting from Europe; it’s a difficult role that Marks makes believable. The plot may seem contrived compared to modern television mysteries, and the characters engender little sympathy. There also seems to be dramatic spark misfires via a lost chemistry between Sidney and Myra (and later, Sidney and Clifford), which lessen Deathtrap’s intensity.

On a positive note, Gene Schuldt’s fight choreography plays well on Sunset’s stage and is especially important to the story. The ensemble cast carries this thriller/comedy with a valiant effort through the murders and mishaps.  This two-hour-plus performance, the second production of the company’s season, definitely provides some surprises and quick turns sure to thrill serious mystery aficionados.

Deathtrap continues through Nov. 14. For information, call 262-782-4430 or visit the Sunset Playhouse website.

Categories: Review, Theater, VITAL

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