Review: Deathtrap at Town and Gown Players

By Rakel Johnson

Under the direction of Bryn Adamson, Deathtrap is a hilarious, self-referential “whodunit” that kept me guessing what would happen next until the very end. The two-act, one set, five-character play is chock-full of surprises, betrayal, and … murder.

Sidney Buhl (played by Don Smith) is a successful playwright who hasn’t had a hit play in a while. He reads a play sent to him by a student, Clifford Anderson (played by Will Riley), that is also called Deathtrap, and he knows that Clifford has written a hit play that will definitely sell out. Sidney facetiously tells his wife, Myra Bruhl (played by Julia Roessing) that he’d “kill” Clifford and steal his play in order to have a successful hit again.

Myra nervously suspects that Sidney might not be kidding, particularly after he calls Clifford and invites him over to talk about Deathtrap, insisting that Clifford bring all known copies, drafts, and any documentation related to the play.

What happens next is a series of twists, turns, and laughs, and you soon realize that Clifford’s play, Deathtrap, is also the same exact one that you’re watching. The self-referentiality is always subtly hinted at, like when Sidney tells Clifford to stand “upstage,” an actual theatre term used in blocking performances.

Rakel.jpgDon Smith brought Sidney Bruhl’s character to life. Sidney is sarcastic, incredibly witty, and prideful, and his essence as a pompous playwright was perfectly captured by Smith, from his frequent puns to his melodramatic expression of emotions. Likewise, another character favorite is Helga Ten Dorp (played by Kathleen McGovern).

Helga Ten Dorp is a Dutch psychic who is sort of a local celebrity, and she provides even more comic relief and ominousness with her bizarre descriptions of her many visions, including one scene where she suddenly exclaims that her daughter is pregnant and must call her to let her know. McGovern embodied Helga incredibly well, from her swaying arm movements down to her accent.

Contrarily, Julia Roessing’s portrayal of Myra Bruhl was initially annoying. It’s something about the character’s squeaky tone of voice, and the character just didn’t feel real to me. She felt like a poorly portrayed character in a play!

However, I later found out from a discussion after the play’s preview that the director, Bryn Adamson, wanted Myra to be annoying. That’s when everything clicked to me, and you’ll see why. Now aware of the intent, I believe that the goal was well-accomplished, though it might have benefitted from being more clearly expressed in the production.

When the curtains first opened, there was an audible gasp from the audience, as the set for the play, designed by Ron Alexander, was amazingly well-done. Everyone who played a role did fantastic.

The details were meticulous, from the white painted brick wall lined with Sidney Bruhl’s collection of antique weapons, to the hanging posters of Bruhl’s past hit plays, to the hand-painted wood grain floor. Even outside of the “door” of the house, there was a patio with fallen leaves on the ground and shrubbery.

Everything felt real, even the special effects. During a storm, there was a rain and thunder soundtrack and scattered patches of flashing blue lights to simulate lightning and the lamps throughout the set were functioning. There was subtle piano music to accompany those suspenseful moments, hinting at something sinister looming, and the lighting adjusted to the time of day or moods of scenes accordingly.

The wardrobe is also worth mentioning because it was perfectly tailored to each character. For example, Sidney Bruhl’s character can be seen rocking turtlenecks, blazers, and fancy robes while Helga Ten Dorp was always donning something eccentric, with a pop of color.

All of the intricacies become even more astounding once you remember that everything, acting included, is done by volunteers at Town & Gown Players, Inc. As a volunteer theatre, everyone is there because they want to be, but you never could have guessed that it’s all for fun, based on the stellar production.

Ultimately, Deathtrap deserves 5 out of 5 stars because it is a must-see. I couldn’t ask for more from a production. The acting is high quality, the production pays great attention to detail, and it was worth every single penny. The comedy-thriller is sure to leave the people of the audience on the edge of their seats and smiling—if not, laughing—on their way out of the door!

 

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