Bob Hope sang, “Thanks for the memories,” but Deathtrap has me singing thanks for few memories. I’d seen the 1990 version at the Omaha Community Playhouse and the movie with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, but that didn’t spoil the suspense.
I didn’t remember the scary plot twists or even how funny it was. The only problem? Sharing its appeal without revealing those twists and turns.
The laughs may not entirely be an issue of memory. I suspect this version may play the comedy more broadly or the preview night audience might have responded with more laughter than came at least from the movie audience.
In any case, first time Playhouse director Matthew Pyle wins the performances you expect from such proven talents as Mike Markey as the “thriller” playwright, Connie Lee as his wife, Judy Radcliff as the flamboyant psychic next door, and Paul Schneider as the playwright’s lawyer. And Isaac Reilly, a relative newcomer unless he’s served you at the Dundee Dell, has no problem keeping up with his seniors.
Reilly plays the playwriting student who apparently mails a script for “Deathtrap,” the play within the play, and has Markey’s Sidney Bruhl salivating over the temptation to steal it after his run of four flops followed earlier triumphs. Lee as his wife wants him to work out something collaborative with the young writer, but worries that he’s planning to kill the kid.
Spoiler alert: You won’t find out what unfolds by reading the rest of this review, but don’t even think of Googling the Ira Levin play because the Wikipedia synopsis gives it all away.
Suffice it to say, the story line quickly spins out the potential that’s required of a thriller, as defined by Bruhl, and provides a violent climax to Act One that has the audience screaming and then laughing as it switches from horror to hilarity.
Markey, in his mid-life reincarnation as a hard-bodied triathlete, adds to his accumulating credits playing somewhat dangerous men. And Radcliff scores another vivid character role as the Dutch psychic who exclaims, “Pain, pain, pain,” as she shudders at the vibes emanating from the writer’s living room study, another wonderful Jim Othuse creation. Outfitting Radcliff, by the way, must have been the best part of Lindsay Pape's costume assignment.
Schneider ("He's dull but he's sharp," Bruhl warns) doesn’t share scenes with his real-life wife, Connie Lee, but stretches the twisting and turning into a closing encounter with Radcliff’s Helga ten Dorp, that’s more like a postscript or epilogue, but a fitting finale.
Levin, who also wrote Rosemary’s Baby, earned a long Broadway run with this one in the late 1970s, and as offered by director Pyle and the five-person cast it hasn’t suffered even slightly from the passage of time—especially for those of us with gaps in our memories.
Speaking of postscripts, here’s a p.s. for fans of Broadway musicals: Ask anybody who saw Memphis earlier in the week at the Orpheum and you’re likely to hear a word-of-mouth rave. So be aware that good tickets were still available as of Friday afternoon for the Saturday and Sunday performances featuring as strong a vocals and appealing a story as any new musical in recent years.
Deathtrap runs Jan. 18-Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday, on the Hawks Main Stage of the Omaha Community Playhouse. Tickets are $35 adults, $21 students. Call 402.553.0800 or visit omahaplayhouse.org.