Writer’s block threatens to fade into obscurity the once-famous and now washed-up mystery playwright, Sidney Bruhl. That is, until one of his former students, Clifford, mails an outstanding, never-before-read script to his mentor for review. In a transparent bout of jealousy, the sardonic Sidney muses with his wife Myra the idea of inviting Clifford to their home under the guise of providing literary criticism and instead bump the poor kid off, allowing Sidney then to take full credit for Clifford’s masterful thriller. Of course, the entire “plan” is offered only in jest…right?
What follows over the next two and a half hours is a conglomeration of plot twists upon plot twists. Ira Levin’s DEATHTRAP is a toy on the familiar contrivances of murder mysteries. (Much of the action occurs on a dark and stormy night in the Bruhls’ cabin, isolated in the Connecticut woods.) Yes, it’s absurd when a new ulterior motive from a character who’s already switched alliances several times is revealed, but that’s the point of this pseudo-satirical dark comedy. Tension is constantly balanced by humor, and tongue is meant to remain firmly in cheek. In this, Hedgerow’s production, directed by Penelope Reed, succeeds.
DEATHTRAP playfully nudges the audience along the way without ever breaking the fourth wall. For example, one running motif is the characters’ realization of what a great script the actual events occurring onstage would make. And when they brainstorm their way through this play within a play’s plot, future onstage events are foreshadowed. This cleverly raises the question of whether art is imitating life or life is imitating art…or perhaps both.
Hedgerow’s engaging production is aided by a uniformly praiseworthy cast. Robert Smythe as the cutting Sidney and Rebecca Cureton as the anxious Myra quickly settle into their roles, but the intensity really picks up when Andrew Parcell as the awestruck Clifford enters. Parcell delivers a rich performance of a dynamically shifting character. Also excellent is Betty Lou Roselle as the hilarious neighborhood psychic, Helga Ten Dorp. With her abundance of energy and spot-on comic timing, Roselle easily steals every scene she’s in. Rounding out the solid cast is Brian Boland as Sidney’s friend and lawyer.
The production values work well. The rustic set, designed by Zoran Kovcic, properly conveys the requisite isolation. Scattered about his home, Sidney keeps in plain view weapons (props) used in past productions, some of which are real. Their constant presence, of course, adds a layer of tension throughout. There were a few minor prop fumbles on opening night, which the actors resolved with ease.
Hedgerow’s DEATHTRAP is a self-aware thriller that will keep you guessing right to the end, providing plenty of laughs along the way.
by Ira Levin
Directed by Penelope Reed
August 23 – September 23, 2012
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA 19063