NextStop Theatre Company’s current production of Deathtrap does an incredible job of honoring the play’s highly successful history. Deathtrap was nominated for a Tony in 1978 for Best Play and holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway. Written by Ira Levin, a well-known author of many thrillers including Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, Deathtrap has been revived multiple times over the years, and in 1982 was made into a film starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine, and Dyan Cannon. The reputation of a show speaks to the quality of the work and NextStop’s cast and production team does a tremendous job of doing the work justice.
Immediately upon walking into NextStop’s theater space the audience catches site of the beautiful set, designed by JD Madsen. The play takes place in one room, which stands as Sidney Bruhl’s study in his renovated home in Connecticut. Sidney Bruhl, played by Peter Holdway, is a successful writer currently struggling through a creative rut. The open room is primarily wood, with wooden support beams, a fireplace, and an elevated platform for Bruhl’s desk and actual work area. Throughout the study there a myriad of displayed weapons, which the audience learns are from plays Bruhl has written and had performed on Broadway, a great relief to me as I feared we’d be witnessing a blood bath true to Chekhov’s gun principle, though a good number of the weapons do come into play at one point or another.
Peter Holdway is frighteningly good as Sidney Bruhl. He is endearing and honest in his success and his failures. Brilliant and funny; the man you want root for. And even once the audience has glimpsed Bruhl’s dark streak, he still manages to charm his way back into their favor.
Bruhl’s wife, Myra, is played by Susan Garvey. The dynamic between the two is comfortable and easy until Peter begins joking a bit too seriously about killing a younger playwright, who has sent his first play to Bruhl for his professional opinion and advice. Bruhl, recognizing the story for the success it will be, toys with the thought of offing the young, unknown man and taking the story for his own.
The inexperienced playwright, Clifford Anderson played by James Finley, comes to the Bruhls’ home to discuss his work and Myra’s uneasiness and agitation is impossible for her to hide. Finley plays Clifford with a sweet naiveté, which makes his potential role as a murder victim seem more and more probable as the scene progresses.
There are no spoilers here but I will say that the plot’s dizzying twist and turns will keep you at the edge or your seat, or possibly curled up in the fetal position in your chair, depending on your usual reaction to a suspenseful thriller. Fight Director Kristen Pilgrim has done an amazing job of creating altercations that look chillingly real.
Evan Hoffmann directed this production and the actors are so natural that it is easy to forget that you aren’t just looking into real life. The humor throughout the play is also perfectly timed, though whether the purpose is to set you at ease or to catch you off your guard is impossible to predict.
A source of much of the humor comes from Lorraine Magee, who plays Helga ten Dorp, the physic neighbor to the Bruhl’s. She is brought over to the Bruhl’s by horrible feelings of pain that she is getting from their house. Magee wonderfully balances the eccentricity and seeming ridiculousness of Helga with the unease of her keen wisdom and eerily accurate predictions.
Also joining the cast is Frank Britton as Porter Milgrim, the Attorney to Sidney Bruhl but also friend to the family, whose concern for Bruhl’s well-being could prove to be the ruination of everyone.
NextStop’s production of Deathtrap is the perfect combination of fun, fright, and fine acting. A comedic suspense thriller, the play is not just for thrillseekers alone. The cast and creative team have created a beautiful production that you will walk away from with a chill running down your spine, but in the comfort of a smile.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.