Deathtrap thrills audiences with unexpected twists

Domino Theatre play mixes comedy with murder

Deathtrap will play at Domino Theatre until Nov. 2.
Credit: 
Photo by Matt Salton

Ira Levin’s Deathtrap is a riotous meditation on love, success, and show business.

Kingston audiences can catch the play live at Domino Theatre from Oct. 17 to Nov. 2. 

The 1978 play by the author of Rosemary’s Baby holds the record for the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway and was nominated for four Tony Awards in its opening year, including Best Play.

Deathtrap tells the story of Sidney Bruhl, a once-successful playwright of mysteries and thrillers and an avid collector of antique weaponry, who hasn’t managed to pen a hit play in years. Living off his wife, Myra’s, family fortune, the pair are rapidly becoming strapped for cash.

When Sidney receives the perfect play, titled Deathtrap, in the mail from Clifford Anderson, a former student of his, he jokes about murdering Clifford and claiming the play as his own.

After all, as he says, “What’s the point in owning a mace if you don’t use it once in a while?”

What ensues is a play within a play within a play. Billed as a “thriller in two acts,” Deathtrap is a little silly, endlessly self-referential, and occasionally heavy-handed—until it’s not.

The play’s strength is in its shock value.

No character is as they seem, and while the performance starts off slightly stilted, as their masks are lifted, the characters come to life on stage, reinvented again and again, with every plot twist reaching a little closer to the truth.

Standout performances from the five-person cast came from Tom Abram as Clifford and Ben Charland as Sidney. The starring duo carries forward the suspenseful tone of Deathtrap, managing to seed doubt into every onstage interaction.

Abram shines in particular. Every iteration of Clifford as a character is utterly convincing, and despite the dramatic changes each twist brings, Abram makes Clifford feel all the more authentic.

Actress Angie Roberts also drew laughs from the audience in her role as Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp. Playing the Bruhls’ famous and eccentric new neighbour, her overbearing presence and inconvenient extrasensory powers throw a wrench into Sidney’s schemes as she swans in and out of his study, which is the setting for the entirety of the play.

Her outrageous maroon velvet bell-bottoms and copious golden scarves doubled down on 70s flair, which was reflected in the earth-toned set, complete with brown leather furniture and patterned green and orange wallpaper.

Despite the potential limitations of a single, static set, the production team managed to evoke an entire house with just a room, using the half-hidden staircase to the implied upper floor, and the large French doors that open the study up to the Bruhls’ back garden to convincingly transport the audience from the small theatre into wealthy Westport, Connecticut.

Deathtrap is full of double-crosses, questionable morality, and plenty of antique weaponry, but the true antagonist of the play is the lure of success.

No character can resist it for long. They’re playwrights, incorporating the theatrics from their pages into their everyday lives. The characters can’t help but frame a dramatic narrative for each tragedy that affects them, and despite the playful tone, Deathtrap tells a story of how ambition can blind people’s morality.

Early in act one, Sidney tells a paranoid Myra that he “may be devious and underhanded enough to be a successful murderer, but not, I think, a Broadway producer.” Over the course of the play, that statement rings true.

The characters would do anything to produce the perfect murder mystery, and when writer’s block hits, they prove that nothing beats the real deal when it comes to finding inspiration.

 

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