By Paige Allen
July 5, 2019
“Do you know, this could be a good thriller!” the young playwright exclaims before describing his exact situation: “A young playwright sends his first play to an older playwright who conducted a seminar that the young playwright has attended. Nobody else has read it, and then he comes to visit the older playwright, to get some ideas for rewrites, and he brings along the original and all his notes and everything…” The older playwright has the chance to steal the younger playwright’s new work. The question: is the play really worth killing for?
Oh, it most certainly is.
If it wasn’t, what kind of “thriller in two acts” would Deathtrap be?
Written by Ira Levin, author of horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, Deathtrap follows Sidney Bruhl (C. Luke Soucy), a playwright in decline who receives a play in the mail from one of his former students, Clifford Anderson (Dylan Blau Edelstein). The play—like the one in which it is embedded—is a five-character thriller called Deathtrap with “sound construction, good dialogue, laughs in the right places” (Sidney’s words). Desperate to reclaim former glory and replenish a dwindling bank account, Sidney and his wife, Myra (Kathryn Ann Marie), cannot help but imagine what it would be like if Clifford was out of the picture and Sidney were to claim the sure-hit Deathtrap as his own.
I will have to refrain from sharing more about the plot of the play as I had the thrill of experiencing Deathtrap for the first time last night and do not want to spoil the good, gruesome fun (much of which is staged convincingly by fight/intimacy choreographer, Rocio Mendez). But Princeton Summer Theater’s spin on this summer stock classic, directed by Annika Bennett, is sure to delight even those who have seen the play (or movie) before.
Jeffrey Van Velsor’s set design turns Bruhl’s colonial study into a character of its own. The rich wooden walls are covered with window cards from Bruhl’s previous shows (skillfully designed by Alexandra Palocz with a vibrant and vintage look) and antique implements of death—an axe, a mace, several guns, even a machete. The real deathtrap could be this room, in which the entire play takes place and a multitude of potential murders hang just within reach.
Megan Berry’s lighting design features Sidney continually adjusting the level of lighting in the room, suggesting he is in control of how much we see and how much we do not. Naveen Bhatia’s sound design leans into the comedy of the show and even emulates the radio show murder mystery with its incorporation of vintage torch songs. During Act Two, Berry and Bhatia combine talents to conjure a deliciously dramatic thunderstorm.
Costumer Jules Peiperl draws more from the fashion of the 1870s than the 1970s for their design, dressing the characters in gothic-inspired button downs, vests, and jewelry that nods to the roots of the horror tradition in the nineteenth century and emphasizes the performativity of the characters as they lie through smiles and polite manners.
Throughout Deathtrap, director Bennett and her cast explore this delicate balance between the facçades the characters construct and the truth of their intentions underneath. Soucy tackles the exhausting role of Sidney with flair, finding the moments when his air of the posh, smooth-talking playwright drops to reveal something more sinister. The bulk of the show is carried by Soucy as he hardly leaves stage (even during intermission), but the talents of Marie and Blau Edelstein create dynamic tension between Sidney and their respective characters. The comedic psychic, Helga Ten Dorp (Abby Melick), and Sidney’s friend and lawyer, Porter Milgrim (Justin Ramos), may not have oodles of stage time, but Melick embodies the Dutch clairvoyant with a distinctive energy and physicality, and Ramos offers a fresh, dandyish interpretation of Milgrim.
Splendidly self-aware and peppered with humor, Deathtrap is filled with lies and reversals, surprises and deceit, continually turning in on itself and leaving the audience wondering what is the truth. The play warns us to never underestimate what a well-written thriller could drive a person to do.
As Clifford points out, “I mean, the audience should suspect, yes, but they shouldn’t be absolutely certain, should they?”
Feel free to suspect. But be careful to never feel absolutely certain, or you may find yourself caught up in the deathtrap as well.
BCS-friendliness rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I received a complimentary ticket for this show as a reviewer. However, even if I had to pay, the price is great. Student tickets are $24.50 for a single show, and three-show ($65) and full ($79) subscriptions are also available.
Princeton Summer Theater has been producing great works of theater and empowering the stars of tomorrow for over fifty years. Through PST, up-and-coming student theatremakers and young professionals gain training and experience in theatrical production, performance, marketing, and more. Located in the Hamilton Murray Theater on the campus of Princeton University, PST continually delivers a summer season of high-quality, affordable theatre.
This summer, in addition to reviewing shows in NYC, I’ll be reviewing the PST season, so look out for more to come!