Apparently January is the month when plays about the making of a play are fashionable. It started in the first week of the New Year with the Los Angeles Premiere of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway’ at the Pantages and now its Ira Levin’s Deathtrap at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. Both are distinctly unique shows but each portrays an intriguing back story in the world of playwrights and theatrical production.
Deathtrap is a thriller and a chiller with abundant doses of humor despite its overall dark tone. The essential story is of the once highly successful Broadway playwright Sidney Bruhl [portrayed exquisitely by Christopher Cappiello]. Unfortunately Sidney’s play writing has hit a snag; he is suffering from writer’s block and he has become distressed and frustrated when one day he receives a script in the mail. The script is entitled Deathtrap and was written by Clifford Anderson [captivatingly presented by David Tolemy]. Sidney Bruhl sees enormous potential in the young writers script and instantly sets about plotting a way to at the very least ‘collaborate’ with Clifford Anderson to get the script in final form and on a Broadway stage.
Then the story spins into a wild ride with more twists and turns than a back mountain road. Enter the psychic neighbor Helga ten Dorp [brilliantly acted by Karesa McElheny]. She feels some disturbing vibes in the Bruhl home; they, in her psychic mind foreshadows death. Indeed it is not long before Myra Bruhl [beautifully projected by Shaw Purnell] succumbs to a heart attack but only after it seems as if her husband Sidney has brutally murdered the young playwright Clifford. But did Sidney murder Clifford? What caused Myra to suffer a fatal heart attack, and what did the family lawyer Porter Milgram [well-crafted by Don Savage] casually observe that can turn the whole story in yet another new and terrifying direction?
That is the beauty of Deathtrap it changes almost constantly and as presented at the Sierra Madre Playhouse it benefits from clearly top flight acting and award winning direction from Christian Lebano. One other element that is absolutely magnificent is the set design; it is simply superb and the product of set designer John Vertrees with a lot of help from many contributors to the Sierra Madre Playhouse efforts.
Deathtrap is thoroughly enjoyable at virtually every level and in every way with but one tiny suggestion for making it truly perfect. Take ten minutes out of Act One and Deathtrap becomes a perfect presentation. There truly is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But if that is the worst that can be said it remains an excellent presentation.
Playing now through February 20th 2016 at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 West Sierra Madre Boulevard, and Sierra Madre, California. Show times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 P.M.. Reservations may be made by calling 626-355-4318.