Bay Theatre does right by `Deathtrap'

Company's production of Ira Levin thriller is fast-paced, filled with surprising twists

Review

October 06, 2006|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Had it not been for the intervention of the famous playwright, Bay Theatre's production of Deathtrap might have been aborted.

As a result of the play's being revived on Broadway, the license was denied to the Annapolis-based professional troupe. Artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne contacted its author, Ira Levin, who intervened on Bay Theatre's behalf to grant the rights to perform Deathtrap.

It's doubtful that Levin, who also wrote A Kiss Before Dying, Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, would regret his decision if he could catch Bay Theatre's production, which opened Sept. 29. The cast and crew put together a fast-paced thriller full of twists and turns.

In his Bay Theatre directorial debut, James Phillips meets the considerable demands of creating live theater performances that must startle every audience over the monthlong run.

Robb Hunter contributes much to the exciting action as fight director, coaching the male leads in realistic combat.

Janet Luby is associate artistic director and has responsibility for costumes. Tupper Stevens adroitly controls chaos as stage manager, and set designer Dave Buckler has created a comfortable, livable room with a realistic-looking stone fireplace and solid overhead beams to simulate upscale 1970s Connecticut suburbia.

Lighting designer Irene Sitoski's efforts heighten drama and produce impressive lightning effects.

On display is an impressive array of weapons including swords, daggers, axes and crossbows, some supplied by Hunter, others obtained from such distant places as California.

Deathtrap, which premiered in 1978, was the fifth-longest-running play in Broadway history. It also became a 1982 movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

Theater buffs will appreciate the many stage references and the spontaneous emulation of creating a play as we watch.

Stage luminaries including George S. Kauffman and Harold Prince are mentioned along with such thrillers as Sleuth, Angel Street and Dial M for Murder.

James Gallagher tackles the demanding role of Sidney Bruhl, a frustrated playwright who hasn't had a hit for nearly 20 years. Gallagher's Bruhl initially seems so pleasantly urbane that it is incomprehensible that he would think of killing for a hit play, as he jokingly suggests to his wife, Myra, when enviously speaking of a young playwright who needs only two drafts to create a sure-fire hit.

Later, Gallagher reveals conflicting facets of Bruhl's personality, so convincing in his many transitions that we feel compelled to trace back the logic in the progression.

Myra is well played by Antoinette Doherty, who has the requisite sophistication and vulnerability the character needs.

In his Bay Theatre debut as the young playwright and Bruhl's former seminar student, Clifford Anderson, C. Travis Atkinson holds his own with Gallagher, no small feat.

Atkinson convincingly simulates touch mastery on a manual typewriter. He is as formidable as Gallagher in fight scenes demanding athletic prowess.

Merry-Browne brings hilarity and excitement to the role of the famous Dutch psychic, Helga Ten Dorp. She provides the fun of outlining versions of the forthcoming plot in an infectiously lilting accent.

As Porter Milgrim, Bruhl's lawyer, Paul Danaceau is convincing and adds a few surprises.

Deathtrap continues at Bay Theatre, 275 West St. in Annapolis, on weekends through Nov. 4. Reservations: 410-268- 1333.

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