Into the Vortex
Deathtrap at The Aux Dog Theatre
Super villains have this habit of meticulously explaining their schemes to would-be victims. It's frightfully annoying, especially as their plans usually prove fruitless when the inevitable superheroes fly in to save the day, leaving the villains with eggy faces and foiled plots.
In writer’s lingo, this is called a deathtrap. It’s a tool commonly used in comic books and James Bond flicks, and it's beaten to a pulp in Ira Levin's Deathtrap.
Deathtrap opened on Sept. 12 at The Aux Dog Theatre, the first production by The Enchanted Rose Inn and Theatre. The Enchanted Rose is a Victorian-style bed and breakfast with a 280-seat theater planned to open in Cedar Crest. It’s also the product of Vernon Poitras' lifelong dream. Poitras directs this production of Deathtrap as a sort of teaser and awareness-builder for The Enchanted Rose.
Levin's play, which holds the record for longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway, opens in the rustic home of playwright Sidney Bruhl (Ray Orley) and his wife, Myra (Jo Blackstone). Sidney, while once a successful writer of thrillers, has fallen into a dreadful period of writer's block. Eighteen years since his last hit, Sidney is desperate to pen a box-office smash when an up-and-coming playwright, Clifford Anderson (Richard Boehler), sends a copy of his first play, Deathtrap. Clifford seeks feedback from Sidney, but Sidney sees a gold mine and wants the play for himself. Myra and Sidney come up with a plot to convince Clifford to collaborate with Sidney and split the royalties. Jokingly, Sidney tells Myra he'd kill the young playwright to get his hands on the script just as Clifford arrives at the Bruhls’ home. As the men discuss Deathtrap, Myra is left wondering just what her husband is capable of.
As the title implies, Deathtrap is full of thrilling moments. The play is, in essence, a dramatic narrative about how the play itself came into existence—forming a postmodern vortex. Mind-blowing analysis aside, Deathtrap is a romp in the world of suspense, with turns to double-crossings and blood lust.
Poitras built a phenomenal set for the production, leaving nothing to the imagination, and gives the performers an ideal surrounding to let their characters loose in the bizarre world Levin created.
It's clear the cast has fun staging Deathtrap, an element not lost on the audience even during the more rambling monologues. Some of these plot-divulging and story-recounting lines could be sped up to alleviate repetition, but the problem comes mostly from the script, not the actors.
Ninette S. Mordaunt is delightful as Helga ten Dorp, the criminal detective/psychic who moves in next door to the Bruhls. Mordaunt carries a convincing accent and keeps Helga from reverting to a tool for melodramatic comedic relief.
Blackstone's near hysterics are spot on, and her performance gets stronger as she loosens up on stage. Boehler has a nice voice and good timing, but he rarely faces the audience directly, creating an odd disconnect. Bruce Holbrook as Sidney's lawyer, Porter, is likable and plays the attorney as a man-next-door rather then a slimeball, which is refreshing.
Orley presents a commanding performance as Sidney, coming off natural and at ease. He delivers every line with confidence and professionalism.
While Deathtrap ensnares the audience with elaborate plots and over-the-top drama, it's an excellent night of suspended disbelief. As The Enchanted Rose's first production, it's a modest success.
Deathtrap , a play by Ira Levin, runs Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. at the Aux Dog Theatre (3011 Monte Vista NE). Tickets are $15 general, $12 students and seniors. Call 254-7716 for info and reservations.