How far would you go to achieve success? Would you lie? Steal? Commit murder? Probably not, but we can’t be so confidant when it comes to Sidney Bruhl, the hero of Ira Levin’s 1978 comedy-thriller Deathtrap, which opened Friday night at Northside Theatre Company.
Matt Singer plays Sidney, a famed author of Broadway thrillers who is experiencing a creative dry spell. Enter Clifford Anderson (Jason Arias), a young admirer who submits a manuscript to the elder playwright for critique. Upon reading it, Sidney begins to half-seriously consider killing Clifford and claiming the play as his own, to the horror of his wife, Myra (Melinda Marks).
He believes that Clifford’s play has the makings of a Broadway smash, and even a movie starring Michael Caine. Eerily, this is exactly what became of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap in real life. Levin, who wrote bestselling novels like Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil, had his biggest stage hit with Deathtrap, which is still the longest-running comedy-thriller Broadway has ever seen.
The play’s tone (foreboding, with humorous touch of absurdity) is immediately established by the decor in Sidney’s old colonial home, where all of the action takes place. Along with the ephemera of his past plays, Sidney has a number of weapons on display: handcuffs, swords, daggers, a variety of firearms, an ax, a crossbow and a medieval mace. It looks like the kind of place where a murder could happen; in truth, it would be surprising if a murder did not occur.
James Lucas appears as Sidney and Myra’s attorney, while Shareen Merriam plays their neighbor, a Dutch psychic named Helga ten Dorp, who fulfills what would traditionally be the role of a detective. It may seem contrived to replace the usual logic and deduction with supernatural readings, but Merriam’s gleefully loopy character is one of the best parts of the play, along with the hilarious dialogue between Singer, Marks and Arias and a few genuinely, hair-raisingly scary moments.
Unlike a lot of things from the ‘70s, Deathtrap has aged very well, and Northside’s production seems as fresh and entertaining as the original must have been. It could easily take place today, and if the cast are decked out in their best 1978 costumes, that’s just an extra bit of fun.
Through March 6
Olinder Theatre, San Jose
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