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Critic: Simon Saltzman. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 15, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Death Trap’

When a play advertises itself as a "comedy thriller,"

one has every right to expect it to have a modicum of comedy and at

least a few thrills. Although Ira Levin’s immensely successful play

"Deathtrap" has every right to make the same claim it did

when it opened on Broadway 22 years ago, the tepid production currently

at the Paper Mill Playhouse offers neither. By way of an awfully misguided

casting error, the irreconcilably preposterous play, under Leonard

Foglia’s direction, has been drained of its mordantly sinister edge

and its airs of jaded sophistication. It also ceases to be good frightening


If I was never a big fan of the play that turned out to be Broadway’s

longest running play of this genre, I well remember the unison screams

of an unprepared audience in 1978 with the surprise appearance of

a mud-covered man presumed to be dead. We bought into the cheap tricks,

predictable twists and topsy turns of the plot because no matter how

far-fetched, the actors (John Wood, Victor Garber, and Marian Seldes

appeared in the original production) gave it plausibility and brought

with them stylistic panache.

At the Paper Mill, Jonathan Hadery plays Sidney Bruhl, the successful

author of mystery plays now suffering writer’s block. The middle-aged

Bruhl hatches a plot with Clifford Anderson (Adrian Reider), his young

male disciple and lover, to kill Myra (Amy Hohn) Bruhl’s wealthy wife,

who has a heart ailment. That Anderson has written a first-rate play

called "Deathtrap" that Bruhl would like to steal and claim

as his own complicates matters, but no more so than does the intrusion

of Helga Ten Dorp (Marilyn Sokol), a psychic neighbor, and Porter

Milgrim (Lewis Arlt), Bruhl’s opportunistic attorney.

As Bruhl, Hadery, whose performances both on Broadway

and off ("Gypsy," "Torch Song Trilogy," "Guys

and Dolls") have been deservedly lauded, is mostly shrill, often

incomprehensible, and from all perspectives ill-suited to the role

of the Machiavellian bi-sexual sophisticate. Probably because Levin’s

lines, once amusing for their superficial eclat, are not only thrown

away but infected with what sounds like an actor’s disdain for their

very existence. Hohn is competent as the ethically disposed and easily

disposed of Myra. A good actor who has had better days in the company

of the Drama Dept ("The Country Club," and "June Moon"),

Hohn has the good fortune to get frightened to death in Act I.

Although she plays a psychic, I don’t know what possessed the grotesquely

gypsy-attired, double-Dutch-accented Sokol, who is not generally known

for her restraint as an actor, to spin so irretrievably out of control

as the prophetic nosy neighbor. I didn’t see Sokol earlier this season

in the Elizabeth Ashley vehicle "If Memory Serves," also directed

by Foglia, but she is evidently giving the director what he wants.

On the other hand, Reider, who plays the devious young writer, also

appeared in "If Memory Serves." As Clifford, Rieder’s performance,

however, is immediately characterized by a charming self-effacing

devilishness and is mercifully giving the audience what it wants,

a solid job of acting. The only other solidity can be seen in Michael

Anania’s setting. Feast your eyes on the elegant study in the Bruhl’s

remote country home in Westport, Connecticut. Its handsomely designed

beamed cathedral ceiling, the vast display of ancient weaponry that

adorns the walls, and the soft leather furnishings are no sham, unlike

what takes place within.

— Simon Saltzman

Deathtrap, Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn,

973-376-4343. $36 to $60. Show runs through April 2.

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