Deathtrap is a play written by Ira Levin in 1978, and with its many plot twists and the way in which it references itself as a play within a play, almost becomes a caricature of itself, a thriller within a thriller. Deathtrap holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway, running for four years with almost 1800 performances. The published script describes it as “something so evil that it infects all who touch it. The thing has a life of its own. In Deathtrap, Levin has taken the basic components of thrillers and horror stories; murder, deceit, innocent dialogue with hidden sinister meanings, plot reversals, unexpected turns of events, etc., and twisted and rearranged the pieces again and again.”
Terry Bliss and the North Street Playhouse, always game for a challenge, took on the Levin play, with all its twists, nuances and plot reversals with its usual grand style. As always, the cast ensemble by North Street was superb. Jim Szablewicz is brilliant as Sidney Bruhl, a playwright that is known for his one great hit, ‘The Murder Game’, but now finds himself forced to live off his wife Myra’s money after a series of box office flops. Without revealing any more of the plot, Szablewicz navigates the treacherous terrain of Sidney with remarkable ease,professional flair and wit, his timing leaving the audience at once laughing, groaning or with a muffled gasp.
As the wife Myra Bruhl, the always stunning Keith Dodson is spot on, moving from care to disgust to fear to love with a flow and ease rarely found on stage these days. Over the years, Ms. Dodson has honed her craft, and become one of the Shore’s most solid and enjoyable actors. As the young playwright Clifford Anderson, whose play ‘Deathtrap’ has sent Sidney into a fit of self-doubt, William Conry has a full grasp of the wit, and sinister underpinnings embodied within the character, building slowly, line by line until he has constructed a stage presence even Ira Levin would have loved.
While Deathtrap unfolds around the main characters, its depth and charge really comes from the outside in, the supporting cast. Lenore Hart, as the psychic Helga ten Dorp, brings a level of hilarity and absurdity that the Leven character depends on. Her timing, and ludicrous accent was absolutely perfect. One of my favorite actors on the Shore, Cliff Murden played Sidney’s caring attorney, Porter Milgrim. Once again, Murden was delightful, hitting every line and nervous tick with just the right undertone and timing. It is always a pleasure to watch Cliff approach his character development, always layered, always under control, always just where he needs it to be to make the play work.
With North Street entering its 30th year, this directorial performance by Terry Bliss was fitting. Always with a superb attention to detail, an actor’s eye and timing, and always with a hint of devilish wit, Bliss’ Deathtrap was another in a long line of successes. With this play under their belt, we can’t wait to see what the next 30 years bring to the North Street.