Ross Valley Players’ ‘Deathtrap’ is a charming must-see comic thriller

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

Greg Crane (as Sidney) threateningly dangles Houdini handcuffs before Bryce Smith (as Cliff) in “Deathtrap.” Photo by Robin Jackson.

Spoiler alert!

I  could inject that one — and half a dozen more — into this review of the comic thriller “Deathtrap” but that would merely kill its breathtaking, un-telegraphed surprises.

So I’ll be judicious about detailing many of the twists and turns in the tension-filled, mouse-and-cat, let-the-bodies-pile-up play.

To jumpstart you, though, I’ll reveal that seething Sidney Bruhl wrote a successful Broadway show — 18 years and four flops ago. Since then, the character’s been forced into the humiliatorium, living off his wife’s money. When one of his ex-seminar fledglings mails him a sure-fire hit, Sidney summons the courage to murder that young man and steal his manuscript, which is so good “a gifted director couldn’t even ruin it.” Complications ensue because a Dutch psychic has moved into a nearby cottage.

Also know that virtually nothing is as it seems.

Although it’s easy to guess that several pieces of Sidney’s weapon collection strewn along the walls — including a garrote and medieval crossbow —will somehow be utilized.

“What’s the point of owning a mace if you don’t use it once it a while,” he intones menacingly, missing only the chance to twirl a non-existent villainous mustache.

The play, which ran on Broadway for four years starting in 1978, became a film in 1982 starring Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine.

It’s still charming — and charmingly misleading.

Despite the inclusion of dated but easily ignored items such as typewriters and carbon copies and references to the likes of Jack Paar, Betty Friedan, George F. Kaufman and Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Chloe Bronzan directs the Ross Valley Players production so well I actually lurched in my seat a couple of times when sudden action occurred — and, I suspect, I laughed out loud when I was programmed to do so.

Marsha van Broek lends comic relief to “Deathtrap” as psychic Helga ten Dorp. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Bronzan’s work is more than ably aided by an ensemble cast of five, including Marsha van Broek as Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp, perfect as comic relief, remembering as a child, for example, that she hated to play hide-and-seek because “it was too easy;” Gregory Crane as Sidney; Amber Collins Crane as his excitement-loving wife, Myra Bruhl; Bryce Smith as Clifford Anderson; Sidney’s duplicitous student; and Tom Reilly as stuffy attorney Porter Milgrim.

And by Tom O’Brien’s exquisitely moody set design of a ritzy home in Westport, Connecticut, in the early 60s, as well as the blasting of marvelously melodramatic and ominous music by sound designer Bruce Viera.

I’d been looking forward to watching the piece again, because I’d last seen it almost 40 years ago and had forgotten most of it. Besides, it was written by one of my favorite playwrights, Ira Levin, whose popular novels-turned-into-movies included “The Stepford Wives” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Deathtrap” is the perfect must-see entertainment to let me, and you, disregard the deteriorating state of the nation for two hours. And, as a bonus, The Barn’s cushy, raked, newly installed seats are wonderfully comfortable.

The Ross Valley Players’ “Deathtrap” will run at The Barn, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, through Feb. 17. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $12-$27. Information: (415) www.rossvalleyplayers.comor 415-456-9555.

Contact Woody Weingarten at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →