The Majestic Theater in West Springfield, Massachusetts is my “go-to” for the first theater production of the first week of the new year and their production of “Deathtrap” does not disappoint. “Deathtrap” opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran almost 1,800 performances becoming the longest-running comic thriller in Broadway history. It is frequently revived across the country and audiences like the one Friday night in West Springfield eat it up.
As the fading playwright Sidney Bruhl (Ron Komora) states in the opening moments of the play:” A thriller in two acts. One set, five characters. A juicy murder in Act One, unexpected developments in Act Two. Sound construction, good dialogue, laughs in the right places. Highly commercial” Sydney hasn’t had a hit in 18 years and it turns out he’s describing “Deathtrap” a play that was sent to him by a student at a seminar he taught not long ago. He seethes with jealousy and greed and invites the young man, Clifford Anderson (Jack Grigoli) over to the house that night to work on the play. Clifford, who has been housesitting, brings the original and the only carbon copy to the playwright’s remote house. His wife, Myra (Krista Lucas) stands by nervously, unsure of Sydney’s intentions and how far he will go with the opportunity to steal this play from the young man. There is a Dutch psychic, Helga ten Dorp (Lisa Abend), who is staying at the house next door who drops in to speak of her disturbing premonitions and the family lawyer, Porter Milgrim (Walter Mantani) who arrives later in the play to spell out what’s at stake financially.
The Majestic production, persuasively directed by Robbie Simpson, hits all the marks this play offers. The audience was along for the ride from the opening beat as the actors led them through the bitter backstage comedy of a show biz veteran who would kill for a hit to be back in the limelight, the squabbling married couple at odds with each other over finances, the rip-roaring murder and mayhem that induced gasps and squeals of delight and the self-referential meta theater of watching a play called “Deathtrap” as the characters themselves describe what you are watching as if it is the manuscript they hold in their hand. It is all great fun whether you’ve never experienced it before or seen it more than a couple of times as I have. You can still appreciate the style, cleverness and gallows humor lurking throughout. As the psychic Helga foresees “I see theater! Inside, much applause! Outside, a long line of ticket-buyers, shivering in cold!”
The physical production is a beauty! The set design by Greg Trochlil is superb and will invoke real estate envy in the audience with a set and furnishings to die for. The play describes it as a Westport, CT colonial with a stable grafted on. There are rolling barn doors upstage center that separates the house’s tasteful landing and stairs from the workplace in the barn. Stage left has two red panels filled with weapons used in plays (maces, knives, swords…) and above the fieldstone fireplace is a crossbow. Stage right has a green terrace visible through French doors which are circled by window cards from past productions on the wall. It is a glamorous vision of a thriller writer’s workspace and well supported by the lighting design of Daniel D. Rist who also provides a spooky lightning storm. The sound design includes stretches of “South American Getaway” from Burt Bacharach’s “Butch Cassidy” soundtrack played during scene changes for a kicky, breezy feel. The costumes by Dawn McKay were exceptionally well-chosen and I especially liked Helga’s eccentric get-ups that screamed “70’s Merv Griffin guest.” Great work on the props as everything squirted and fired on cue and the physical grappling, fights, and falls were well done. Great job by Production Stage Manager Stephen Petit keeping everything running smoothly.
A terrific set, fun costumes, a script and a staging that can make you laugh out loud or gasp in terror but best of all was the cast that sells you this bill of goods. A terrifically appealing Krista Lucas as the supportive show biz wife has a neurasthenic edge and her reactions to Sydney’s intentions go a long way in unsettling the audience. Jack Grigoli has a wide-eyed mania that can be read as enthusiasm or something far more disturbing and his transition is one of the play’s chief delights. Walter Mantani makes the most of his stage time with a commanding manner, a big bold voice and an eye-popping take to the audience for the ages. Lisa Abend is having a grand time as the Dutch psychic and she very quickly became an audience favorite with her dialect, distracted manner, portentous readings and observations like the pointlessness of her parents wrapping a young psychic’s Christmas presents. Ron Komora plays Sydney Bruhl and he owns the stage. He has a silken purr and keen intelligence that makes him a great fit for this part. He draws the audience in and we are always on his side, even at his most murderous. His reactions to Clifford’s machinations and a threatening diagonal cross he has to downstage right had the audience growing giddy in anticipation with each step forward. The whole cast is assured, working together nearly perfectly with only a couple of hiccups on their second public performance. I can imagine how much tighter and surprising this production is going to get!
“Deathtrap” is the epitome of the well-made play and it continues to offer its numerous pleasures to grateful audiences. There is more than a whiff of homophobia in the play but it is still easy to appreciate the laughs, surprises and great style of the piece especially when done so expertly as it is in the Majestic Theater Production. I don’t have to be Helga ten Dorp to predict many laughs, loud vocal reactions to the shocks or a standing ovation… I witnessed them all on Friday night.
Through February 16th
Tickets: (413) 747-7797