By Easton Mills
Ira Levin’s DEATHTRAP, originally opened on Broadway in 1978, is a self-referential field full of hidden landmines. So covered in plot twists and sudden switches, the play insists on having you disbelieve your own eyes and follow the players down a dark and dismal rabbit hole from which they never recover, and it’s possible you won’t as well.
Colonial Chorus Players (CCP) have tried their hand at this 70s era production – a fitting choice for a crowd seeking something spooky to experience this month. Directed by Shanel Sparr, produced by Jennifer Estabrooks, and staged in Reading, MA at The Old Hose House, the production is a convenient step away from the Salem crowds with all the spectacle and horror the masses tend to crave this time of year.
The final three performances are this weekend: Friday, October 14, 2022 @ 7:30 PM, Saturday, October 15, 2022 @ 7:30 PM, and Sunday, October 16, 2022 @ 2 PM.
CCP’s production follows has-been playwright Sidney Bruhl (Jamie Cabot) and the cast of characters who orbit around his personal solar system: his ambitious and talented young male lover (Colin Lamusta), his beleaguered and often shrieking wife Myra (Ann Marie King), a Dutch psychic who comes tromping in and through the staging like a rhinoceros in a tea room (Beth Enos), and a bumbling lawyer who helps to clunkily move the plot along (Kevin Pierson).
The play opens on the Bruhl couple who have just received a script from one of Sidney Bruhl’s seminar students. The play, also called DEATHTRAP, is a triumph. Sidney, 18 years out from his last smashing play success, sees the new work as his ticket to riches. The only problem is that the original playwright stands in the way of this success and must be murdered for his talents and his original manuscript.
In DEATHTRAP, Ira Levin brings the audience unreliably into the plot, only to leave them stranded on a deserted island with a bottle of rum and a few of their toes missing. It’s an Agatha Christie style thriller that jumps the shark. It’s MOUSETRAP where the fish are in a barrel and all of them are holding knives.
It would be rude for me to give the plot away, because this is an experience all theatre lovers should expose themselves to at some point without knowing what they’re getting into – although, arguably, the play needs a language update as some of the terms used leaned into homophobia and misogyny in a way that didn’t add anything to the plot or dialogue.
In CCP’s production, Ann Marie King’s Myra is a blend of shrill, quirky, and clever. Her stage presence elevated the over-the-topness and brought a sense of urgency to the scenes. When her time on stage was over I felt a moment of grief, not from what she was experiencing, but because the light in the room seemed to blink out when she wasn’t in it.
Also sweeping through the scenes like a welcome wind was Beth Enos as Helga ten Dorp, whose comedic timing saved the production from lulling me into the jaded dead eyed fatigue of everything gone a bit too stabby. Enos’s obviously affected and somewhat jarring accent added rather than detracted from the experience, reminding me of David Suchet’s Poirot with its nostalgic quality. Her best moments occur when she and Lamusta interact. It was like watching a human fail to keep the cat out of the room with the breakable objects. The audience was rooting for the cat.
Unfortunately, Colin Lamusta’s Clifford Anderson was far too energetically large for the space. A peek at his resume shows experiences in large theatres where a booming voice and large gestures might have been a preference, but in the Old Hose House the volume reached a breaking point that verged on the overwhelming.
He particularly comes on too strong at the outset and during the play’s final conflict, the former too full of awkward excitement and the end surprisingly frenetic and violent. It was hard to believe that a single human contained so many nigh schizophrenic multitudes and I craved more nuance. Although, I found myself delighting in his gayest moments: never has a man repeatedly adjusting a curtain been so appealing to watch.
Jamie Cabot’s Bruhl was somewhat tone confusing but I think he was cast correctly. He vacillated between intensity and droll delivery with some intentionality around timing, but I wished that he had been able to portray Bruhl with more deadpan comedic directedness. His character isn’t lovable or enviable as written. No one would ever feel empathy for a man as selfishly driven as Sidney Bruhl, but it would’ve been effective to be able to respect his dedication rather than see a gay Mr. Rodgers with a surprisingly murderous streak.
It was apparent that Pierson did the best he could to bring any bit of life to the empty shell plot device that is Porter Milgrim. In most productions he could be replaced with a wooden plank with concerned eyebrows and offer up the same purpose to the production.
However, the set itself should get a nod for being a worthwhile contributor to the show. Chekov would’ve been so proud to see so many devices available to play with later. Knives, guns, pick axes, artfully placed wires, and medieval weaponry adorned the walls at the start of the performance and came down in their own moments of glory throughout the production. These elements and others on stage added to the fullness of the play in a way that couldn’t have existed in a more minimalist set. The prop master at Colonial Chorus Players should get a round of applause.
Colonial Chorus Players production of DEATHTRAP is bumbling but entertaining. If you are a lover of slasher films, haunted houses, and dry humor, an evening at the Old Hose House is the romp you might be needing this week, and lucky for you there are three more chances to see it.
Sidney Bruhl . . . Jamie Cabot
Clifford Anderson . . . Colin Lamusta
Myra Bruhl . . . Ann Marie King
Helga ten Dorp . . . Beth Enos
Porter Milgrim . . . Kevin Pierson
Easton Mills is a contemporary theatre critic fascinated by language, rhetoric, and weird puns nobody else notices. He is a dog dad to Marshall and an aspiring birder. Follow him on Twitter @EastonMWrites
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