Deathtrap shoots blanks at Gateway Theatre

Pictured left to right: John Fisher* as Sidney Bruhl and Jake Soss as Clifford Anderson in Ira Levin’s Classic Thriller DEATHTRAP; A Theatre Rhinoceros Production at The Gateway Theatre; Directed by Jerry Metzker and John Fisher. Photo by David Wilson. *Member, Actors’ Equity Association.

DEATHTRAP: The Classic Killer Comedy Thriller. Written by the Ira Levin. Directed by Jerry Metzker and John Fisher. Theatre Rhinoceros, Gateway Theatre – 215 Jackson St., (at Battery St.) San Francisco, CA. www.TheRhino.org.  or 1-800-838-3006.  March 22 – April 14, 2019

Deathtrap shoots blanks at Gateway Theatre Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ira Levin’s “classic killer comedy thriller” Deathtrap opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran for four years and was made in to a movie in 1982 starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. Since that time it has made the rounds in London and many community theaters. Locally it was a big hit by Ross Valley Players. It is a play with completely unexpected twists and turns keeping audiences on the edge of their seats with a soupcon of humor guessing the outcome.

The script makes reference to itself early in the first scene.  Sidney Bruhl (John Fisher) an acclaimed playwright has writer’s block and has not had a hit play in years. He lives in Westchester County with his wife Myra (Desiree M. Rogers) who has been financially supportive.  He receives an unsolicited one set, five-character thriller script from Clifford Anderson (Jake Soss) one of his workshop students. The title of that play, also a one set five character thriller is “Deathtrap.” It is perfectly written that “even a director can’t hurt it.” (More about that later). Sydney’s jealousy has no bounds suggesting he might even resort to murder. With the tentative support of Myra they concoct a plot to get a share of the fame and fortune the play would earn.

Clifford is invited to be a “live-in” at the Westchester home so that Sydney can ostensibly help make the script more salable.  A critical plot twist involves the fact that there is only one script and no copies. Clifford uses his trusty Royal portable typewriter with only carbon copies. As the playwrights write and revise they form a tentative bond but no real trust. There is a shocking onstage confrontation at the end of scene 2.

Without giving away the plot twists it is sufficient to say that into this milieu enters Dutch psychic  Helga Ten Dorp (Anne Hallinan) a next door neighbor warning Sydney and Myra that danger lurks in the house. As she noses about she describes some of the action that has been written into Clifford’s script and has actually happened.  When she leaves there is an almost unbelievable scene ending act one.

Telling more of the plot would be unfair to those who have not seen the play or the movie. It is sufficient to say that both Clifford and Sidney are devious and some of the murder paraphernalia hanging on the walls are used to create stunning scenes before scene three of act two puts a fascinating quiet touch to the evening.

Now, about that line: “even a director can’t hurt it.” Once again John Fisher plays John Fisher. He enters the stage in a hyper-mode over emphasizing his lines lacking nuance. His co-star young Jake Soss emulates Fisher in his delivery and should be aided with some serious line-direction. From previous shows Desiree M. Rogers has earned a superlative reputation but in this staging she is just “there” almost as a sounding board. Anne Hallian’s  delivery as Helga is garbled as she tries to convey a Dutch accent emphasizing the humor at the expense of the meaningful lines written for her character.

Many plays and movie thrillers often buffer frightening scenes with “scare music” and so it is with this staging. It might work if the timing and the amp level were synchronized with the stage action.

As luck would have it, my seatmate is the partner of a noted local actor and we had a meaningful conversation at intermission. He had never seen the show and was thrilled with the entire production suggesting to me that if you have not seen Deathtrap disregard this review and enjoy the intricacies of a well-written  one set, five-character thriller .  Running time two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

CAST: John Fisher as Sidney Bruhl; Jake Soss as Clifford Anderson;Anne Hallinan  as Helga Ten Dorp; Desiree Rogers as Myra Bruhl; Randy Soloman as Porter Milgrim.

CREATIVE TEAM: Jerry Metzker and John Fisher, Directors; Gilbert Johnson, Set Designer; Sebastian Attardo, Set Construction; David Draper, Costume Designer; Colin Johnson, Lighting Designer; Stephanie Niemann,, Stage Manager; Arcady Darter, Fight Choreographer.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com

 

Pictured left to right: John Fisher* as Sidney Bruhl and Jake Soss as Clifford Anderson in Ira Levin’s Classic Thriller DEATHTRAP; A Theatre Rhinoceros Production at The Gateway Theatre; Directed by Jerry Metzker and John Fisher. Photo by David Wilson. *Member, Actors’ Equity Association.