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