‘Deathtrap’ at The Heritage Players by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR STARS
A play to die for. Or maybe to kill for, so you be the judge as The Heritage Players continue the autumn leg of their season with their production of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts. Directed by Stuart Kazanow, this exciting drama will keep you twisted up in suspense right to the edge of your chair until the thrilling conclusion. Unlike most thrillers this is not so much a murder mystery as it is a diabolical metaplay turned deadly. With deliciously surprising plot twists and scandalously thrilling characters, the story is all laid out just waiting to be told.

 (l to r) Clifford Anderson (Stephen M. Deininger), and Sidney Bruhl (Stuart Kazanow). Photo by  Joshua McKerrow.
(l to r) Clifford Anderson (Stephen M. Deininger), and Sidney Bruhl (Stuart Kazanow). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Architecturally speaking the set is to die for. Scenic Designer Ryan Geiger gives it his all when it comes to designing the Bruhl household, building the set upward to create depth and dimension. Geiger achieves a rustic look in his design, a homey and yet unfinished feel to the set that really rings true to the text’s descriptions of the study being an addition to the old colonial. Geiger’s use of yellow creates a slightly unsettling ambiance when the lights are low and the storm rolls in; perfect for building suspense into the atmosphere.

Lighting Designer Joel Selzer, working in tandem with Director Stuart Kazanow, who doubles as the show’s Sound Designer, creates a spine-tingling storm for the second half of the production. The way the lightning strikes at just the right moment followed by the roar and occasionally crippling clap of thunder really sets the mood for foul play. Selzer and Kazanow have a keen sense of dramatically suspenseful timing and don’t overdo the theatrics when it comes to this storm, letting it build naturally as the scene builds gloriously with suspenseful anticipation over what’s about to happen. Kazanow cleverly infuses well placed iconic music during the scene changes to further heighten the thrilling experience of seeing a drama of this variety.

Kazanow, as the show’s Director, keeps the show moving at a steady pace; not too fast nor too slow, just right for the way the script and the actors build the tension. While the show runs long, you don’t notice the passage of time because it’s all wound up in the plot and passage of events. As the show’s main character, however, Kazanow struggles in places to have true depth with Sidney Bruhl. Kazanow maintains a deadpan approach to the character, an off-handed half-formulated sarcasm, which to his credit does help certain lines but overall doesn’t serve the character’s rich creative genius and mastermind.

Deininger carries the role of the show’s antagonizing catalyst brilliantly upon his shoulders, a well-rounded deeply fleshed out portrayal of a character that is two-fold in nature. His vivid approach to outlining the arch of the metaplay makes his character spunky and yet visionary. Presenting the dichotomy between nerdy twerp who is sheer awe to merely exist in the presence and sanctuary of his mentor, and polished and slightly arrogant schemer; Deininger gives a fulfilling performance as Anderson. The two skins of his character are as different as day and night, the ‘real’ Anderson coming out as quirky and flamboyant with very little to hide his affections for Sidney.

The ladies in this four-character show hold their own well against the men. Myra (Barbara Gasper) is a terribly nervous creature that comes into her own as major plot twists are unveiled. Gasper does an exceptional job of building tension in the initial encounters with Deininger and Kazanow, the way she shoots up from her chair to interject at poignant moments in the dialogue. Playing opposite Gasper is Andrea Bush, embodying the comic relief character of Helga Ten Dorp, the murder-solving medium with ESP. Bush oscillates between being deathly serious about her premonitions to being a bit of a comic charmer, all while flawlessly overdoing her muddled Dutch accent. It’s the perfect bit of spice and comedy to an otherwise dark thriller.

Let’s not forget the fifth character Porter Milgrim (John Ward). Serving his purpose to advance moments in the plot, and adding a brilliant shocking conclusion to the show, Ward is the perfect addition to this talented cast.

 Helga Ten Dorp (Andrea Bush). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Helga Ten Dorp (Andrea Bush). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

You’ll want to solve this mystery before it’s too late! Deathtrap awaits, and it’s a game of screams for any fan of the theatre!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.

Deathtrap plays through October 27, 2013 at The Heritage Players at The Rice Auditorium—55 Wade Avenue in Catonsville, MD. For tickets call the box office at (443) 575-6645, or purchase them online.