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Alive and Still Surprising: ‘Deathtrap’ at STC

deathtrap
Casey McClellan, left, and Dan Fagan co-star in "Deathtrap" at STC. 

When Ira Levin’s ‘Deathtrap’ opened on Broadway in 1978, it got mixed, but mostly very favorable reviews. It was something new: A comedy thriller with elements of deceit, plot twists and twists upon the twists. It ran for four years, and though it did not win Broadway’s big prize, it was nominated for a Tony Award for best play.

Now 40 years old, the play remains popular, particularly among community theater companies where its “one set, five character” format makes it easy to perform. Sacramento Theatre Company is the latest, now playing through December 15, to present “Deathtrap” on its intimate Pollock Stage where the audience is practically incorporated into the action.

In the play, Sidney Bruhl (Casey McClellan), a previously successful writer of Broadway thrillers has slammed hard into writers block. With his wife Myra (Natasha Hause, who doesn’t look like a “Myra”), Sidney struggles to come up with an idea that will get his work back on track.

Conveniently, a brilliant script arrives one day from a former student in his playwriting class. Sidney and Myra develop a plan to offer the young author a co-credit with Sidney in exchange for his “improving” the play. That’s one possibility. Another is that Sidney might just steal the manuscript (the young author has only one carbon copy of the original) and pass it off as his own. Or, perhaps he’ll just kill the young writer and take his play. Clifford (an excellent Dan Fagan) is more than he seems. More than just a pretty face and a fine writer, he knows a thing or two about plots and plotting himself. This sets in motion a series of unexpected turns of events that isn’t resolved until the very end – and maybe not even then.

In addition to the three main characters, Levin tosses in a couple of wild cards – a psychic named Helga (an amazing Gail Dartez) and Sidney’s lawyer Porter (Greg Parker).

In the years since 1978, many of these tricks and twists and turns have become commonplace in theater, but director Michael Laun treats them as if brand new. His pacing is good for springing surprises and reveals upon the audience, and he elicits good performances from the cast. McClellan takes his part of formerly successful-now desperate playwright a little too seriously at times, making the “acting” too obvious. As the crafty younger playwright who slips into the older man’s life quite easily, Fagan gives a completely natural performance. His “acting” isn’t obvious. And Dartez is just right as the psychic whose visions and predictions are rarely more than half-right.

“Deathtrap” plays Wednesday through Sunday at STC’s Pollock Stage , 1419 H St. Show times are 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 15. Tickets are $40 for adults, $25 for students and $35 for seniors.

For more information, call (916) 443-6722 or go to SacTheatre.org.

Photo by Cindy Lawton

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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