“Deathtrap” — more like laugh trap

Joseph Verbovszky, Staff Reporter

It’s been a long time since I have seen a play like “Deathtrap,” a play that is pure entertainment. Written in 1978 by Ira Levin, “Deathtrap” is a meanly funny comic thriller that follows the story of Sidney Bruhl (played by Tom Ford), a washed-up playwright who lives in the shadow of his former greatness and off of his wife Myra’s money (played by Tracee Patterson). But Bruhl’s bad luck might be coming to an end when he receives a play in the mail from one of his students. It’s a masterpiece of intrigue and plot twists, perfect in Bruhl’s eyes and destined to become a smash hit. The best part of all, though, is that there is only one copy and Bruhl and his student Cliff (Nick Steen) are the only ones who know it exists. Bruhl contemplates murdering Cliff even as he invites him over to discuss his work.

The strongest point of the play is, by far, its structure. It’s very tight and neat, yet full of complexities, plot twists and surprises. Bruhl’s idea to murder Cliff is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the play, the audience finds itself totally shocked at what comes next. I give nothing away by saying there is a murder in the first act and plot twists in the second.

The strength of the storyline and the many plot twists, while easily the best part of the play, work against any substantial character development. Characters repeatedly double-cross one another and change their motivations throughout the play. Nothing is as it seems. However, as a result, characters occasionally hold contradictory viewpoints or motivations and the only thing that the audience can be certain of is that everyone in this play is a self-interested backstabber (with the possible exception of Myra). Luckily, changes in character motivation are handled well because the audience finds new evidence after the big reveal (and there are a lot) that explains the motives of the character. Perhaps the most interesting character is the one who has no lines at all: the play that Cliff is writing (also called “Deathtrap”). It’s something much more than a McGuffin or plot device. It festers like an evil plague or disease that starts out as nothing more than an idea and slowly consumes every character as it becomes more real.

The outstanding aspect of the production is its set. Bruhl’s study faithfully channels the atmosphere of a former stable converted into a study. The sliding barn door and the fantastically large collection of medieval weapons adorning the walls evokes a sort of primitive dark age theme that effectively mirrors the barbaric actions of the characters.

Overall, the Great Lakes production of “Deathtrap” is wonderfully neat and viciously funny. The time flies by as you are kept guessing by the play’s brilliant twists and turns. While it may not be an incredibly deep play, it’s a hell of a lot more fun.