BWW Review: Don Bluth Front Row Theatre Presents DEATHTRAP - Bristling With Wit And Suspense
When Ira Levin (NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS, ROSEMARY'S BABY) died in 2007, New York Times journalist Robert Simonson recalled that the novelist/playwright's DEATHTRAP was one of the biggest hits in Broadway history (holding the record for longest-running comedy-thriller and nominated for four Tonys, including Best Play) and "the last major example of its once bountiful genre." Stephen King is said to have described Levin as "the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels [who]makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drug stores."
In its current iteration at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre in Scottsdale, the play, craftily directed by Lee Cooley, ticks and tocks like clockwork, with characteristic twists of plot, heightened by a superb cast, making for a riveting and thoroughly enjoyable production.
Cooley's sense of drama and comic timing, reflected consistently in his work as an actor and director, pays off in this brisk and well-paced story about the devious designs of an over-the-hill playwright Sidney Bruhl (played with a disarming mix of charm, mischief, and irascibility by the mercurial Jim Coates). Bruhl hopes to regain fame and notoriety with a newly discovered script, come to him via the timely appearance of Clifford Anderson, a former student (one of the many "twerps" he has taught), who seeks counsel on what he believes is a killer of a suspense play. James Gerardi plays the role of the aspiring young wannabe with conviction and real muscularity, a perfect counterpart to the more officious and vain mentor. He is one powerful and persuasive stage presence.
While it may seem that a constructive collaboration is at hand, there's more in the wings, obviously, than meets the eye in this power punch of a thriller. However, we do not indulge in spoilers in this review ~ only to encourage theatre-goers to take a shot at unraveling the mystery before it unravels them.
Bruhl's wife Myra (Janet McClellan emitting appropriate angst and intensity) stands by, telegraphing the possibility of unseemly events, with frequent gasps of worry and frustration and shots of liquor ~ albeit she has wilfully encouraged the meeting of the minds.
To offset the mannered "negotiations" between Sidney and Clifford, and to add some delicious flavoring to the action, Levin introduces two quite different characters, who, in the end, serve to echo the underlying proposition of the play's title.
Jay Budzien is the trusty family attorney, Porter Milgrim, offering counsel regarding the disposition of assets.
Patty Stephens is hilarious as Helga Ten Dorp, the clairvoyant next door neighbor ("I am psychic," delivered in a juicy Nordic way), who senses with startling near-accuracy what is yet to come. Her performance is formidable, worthy of a thousand laughs.
Kudos as well to Cooley, Don Bluth and Chris Dane Burk for the rustic set, highlighted by an assortment of weaponry on the wall, and Corinne Hawkins's costumes.
It may be that the genre to which Levin was paying homage with a grin is an addictive pursuit, trapping its characters in the twists and turns of mysteries waiting to be solved. Certainly, the seductive appeal of the genre is fully evident in this marvelous and gripping roller coaster ride. Lee Cooley and his cast have given DEATHTRAP the zip and bang that merits a full house every performance.
DEATHTRAP runs through June 29th at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre in Scottsdale.
Photo credit to Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
(May not be suitable for younger children)
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre ~ http://www.donbluthfrontrowtheatre.com/ ~ 8670 E. Shea Blvd., Ste. 103, Scottsdale, AZ ~ 480-314-0841