Saturday, October 5, 2013


By Sheila Abrams

If Ira Levin’s play, Deathtrap, surprises you, you are probably a lot younger than I am. This deliciously wicked thriller premiered on Broadway in 1978 and, in 1982, became a film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve and directed by Sidney Lumet.

Frequently revived since then, it has its latest incarnation at Centenary College’s Sitnik Theatre, in a handsome production that will run through Oct. 20. The Centenary Stage Company, an Actors Equity theater in residence at the college, has gone all out, with artistic director, Carl Wallnau, both directing and starring.

Carl Wallnau and Maria Brodeur performing in Deathtrap Oct. 4- 20, 2013 at Centenary Stage CompanyWallnau (right) plays Sidney Bruhl, a successful Broadway playwright whose creative juices seem to have dried up. Waiting for an idea to put him back on a winning track, Sidney finds himself intrigued and somewhat annoyed by a script sent to him, unsolicited, by a former student. As he expresses his frustration to his wife, Myra (Maria Brodeur, left), an idea emerges.

By persuading the former student that he can offer valuable collaborative help in making the script production-worthy, Sidney might give himself some time, not to mention earn some money. Myra reassures him that she is perfectly happy to use her own resources to keep them afloat financially, but Sidney is intrigued with his idea and begins to put it into action.

Thus unfolds a complex tale that is full of twists and turns, intrigue, shifts of perspective, changes of loyalties, and, yes, shocking surprises. You may think you know who the good guys are but (spoiler alert) you may discover that you don’t even know who the DEAD guys are.

02deathtrap-lineup-with-weapons-1_900wIs the young playwright, Clifford Anderson (Jon Mulhearn, far left), really an admirer of Sidney and, if so, what exactly is it he admires.? And is the obviously eccentric next-door neighbor, Helga Ten Dorp (Colleen Smith Wallnau, far right), a genuinely gifted psychic or simply a bit of comic relief? Why is Porter Milgrim (Paul Whelihan), the family lawyer, thrown into the mix? His apparent normality seems almost out of place in this odd bunch.

In Deathtrap, the set is more important than it is in many plays. CSC is once again fortunate to have the services of award-winning New York set designer, Bob Phillips. Though the entire play occurs on one set, it is a gorgeously intricate set, the details of which could easily make the difference between success and failure.

Front and center is the handsomely furnished study of the Bruhls’ Connecticut home, where Sidney writes. A wood stove burns at one side. French doors open onto a patio. Barn doors, sliding on rollers, open to reveal a front door and foyer, a staircase and, beyond, a mantelpiece suggesting an unseen living room. But when those barn doors are closed and the drapes pulled shut over the French doors, the study takes on a different, slightly claustrophobic feeling.

The walls of the study are decorated with posters from Sidney’s successful plays, and with displays of weapons, some historic but all still functional. The rooms are handsome enough to make you think you could live there. Phillips’ sets at Centenary have been memorable in several productions during the past few years (this is year four since the Lackland Center opened) and the designer always makes great use of the facilities at the new arts center.

The play is rich in action and quick-paced dialogue, and everything (and everyone) is there for a reason. It’s like a ride in a mental amusement park. It will leave you breathless. The only drawback is that the dialogue is so dense that if you miss a line – in my case, someone behind me coughed – you may miss a plot turn. You have to pay attention. The reward: you will have a lot of fun.