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‘DEATHTRAP”–twists, turns, and humor excite at Great Lakes Theater

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)

Overheard at intermission of “DEATHTRAP” at Great Lakes Theater:  “I never expected that to happen!”  Response:  “I’ve seen this before and what’s coming up in the second act is even more surprising!”

Yes, “DEATHTRAP” may be a somewhat dated script but it still grabs and holds an audience.  In spite of references to dial telephones, the Merv Griffin TV show, the Great Kreskin, such plays as “SLEUTH,” and “WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION,” and people like Hal Prince, David Merrick and George Abbott, the humor and intrigue of the 1978 script hold up.

The material is masterfully written by Ira Levin. Yes, the same person who crafted “ROSEMARY’S BABY,” “THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL,” and “STEPFORD WIVES.” It holds the record for being the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway.  It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play and was made into a classic movie.

Picture this:  A famous mystery playwright (Sidney Bruhl) has run into a dry spell.  His writer’s block has resulted in financial and marital problems.  A former student (Clifford Anderson) has sent him a script entitled ”DEATHTRAP,” which is ready for production.  Sidney jokingly suggests to his wife that he murder the student and have the play produced on his own.  When he finds out that there is only one copy of the script, Sidney invites the student to his Westport, Connecticut home.  The student arrives and . . .

Come on, you don’t expect me to blow the many plot twists and turns and ruin the surprises for those who haven’t been exposed to Levin’s devious mind.   Just be aware that there is a clairvoyant, a handsome student, a wife with hidden money, pain, lots of knives, a crossbow, a fireplace, some guns, a double desk with locking drawers, a lightening storm, a lawyer, and a couple of blackouts.

The Great Lakes production, under the direction of Charles Fee, is well paced.  Rather than over-exaggerating, Fee wisely lets the script’s finely written lines play on their own.  The laughter emanates from the words, rather than from pratfalls and tomfoolery.

Tom Ford well develops the role of Sidney Bruhl.  He fully inhabits the role.

Nick Steen makes Clifford Anderson a real person.  He has the handsome good looks of Christopher Reeve, who played the role in the movie, and the muscular stature to make the physical exertions of the role believable.

Local actress Tracee Patterson, who was spotlighted by the Cleveland Critics Circle in 2013 as the Best Actress in a Non-musical, is totally believable as Bruhl’s excitable wife.

Lynn Allison has the difficult task of making Helga Ten Dorp, the psychic, into a person who is laughed with, not at.  The part is often over-played, making the character farcical.  In Allison’s hands, the many laughs wisely result from her subtle character development.

Aled Davies is fine as Porter Milgrim, Bruhl’s lawyer.

The technical aspects of the show do much to enhance the quality of the production.  Russell Metheny has created an interior of a lodge that creates a perfect visual setting.  Rick Martin’s lighting is spot on.   Richard Ingraham’s musical interludes nicely highlight the mystery aspects and the storm sequences create the perfect storm.

Capsule judgement: “DEATHTRAP” is a fun mystery filled with plausible twists and turns that incites the curiosity of the audience in their attempt to figure out what’s going to happen next.  The GLT’s production, under the direction of Charles Fee, brings out the best in the script and is a must-see for anyone interested in a delightful escapist theatre experience. 

DEATHTRAP runs from February 21-March 16, 2014 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets go to: 216-664-6064 or