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Deathtrap Review

Thrills & Chills

Address: The Barn Theatre, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Ross, CA 94957
Phone: 415-456-9555  ext. Ext. 1


Bryce Smith as Clifford Anderson and Gregory Crane as Sidney Bruhl in Ira Levin's "Deathtrap."

Review: Judith M. Wilson
Photos: Robin Jackson

Nothing’s predictable in Deathtrap. It takes delicious twists and turns and throws in a few surprises for good measure in a carefully plotted comedy-thriller that keeps audience guessing. The creation of playwright, novelist and screenwriter Ira Levin, who also wrote Rosemary’s Baby, Deathtrap opened on Broadway in 1978 and won several awards that year, including Tony and Edgar awards for Best Play. It also won distinction as the longest-running Broadway comedy-thriller ever for its four-year run. And now, a new version is on stage at The Barn Theatre in Ross, as the third production of Ross Valley Players’ 89th season.

The play is relatively simple, featuring only five characters and one set. It opens as playwright Sidney Bruhl faces writer’s block and begins to feel like a has-been despite his past success. He’s down in the dumps and isn’t making much headway in creating a new work until a new young playwright, Clifford Anderson, enters the scene with exactly the kind of script he is searching for. From there, the action takes off in a play within a play, although not quite in the usual sense.

Gregory Crane, who recently appeared in A Chorus Line at Novato Theatre Company, plays Sidney Bruhl, and Amber Collins Crane is his wife Myra Bruhl. The pair are real-life husband and wife, and the chemistry shines through, as they portray a well-off couple in suburban Connecticut looking for a solution to Sidney’s dilemma. Bryce Smith plays Clifford Anderson, the promising young playwright, in a well-honed, energetic performance, while Tom Reilly is Porter Milgrim, a suitably upper-crust lawyer who advices Sidney. Rounding out the cast is Marsha van Broek, who plays a delightful Helga ten Dorp, the neighborhood psychic who is more perceptive than she seems—or perhaps knows.

Amber Collins Crane as Myra and Gregory Crane as Sidney.

Director Chloe Bronzan envisioned the play in the early 1960s, with Alfred Hitchcock’s technicolor films in mind. That allowed her to retain certain topical elements that would seem dated in a contemporary setting. Some of them are essential to the plot line, and items such as a manual typewriter and dial telephone fit right in. The Barn’s small stage appears surprisingly spacious, and it’s fun to note the properties on the walls, which include a variety of weapons to make the audience wonder where the play might be going and posters of famous thrillers on film, such as Outward Bound and the Agatha Christie favorite Witness for the Prosecution. Set design is by Tom O’Brien, with construction by Michael Walraven. Dhyanis Carniglia did the property design. The set also has to accommodates fight choreography, and Broznan explained that it’s important for it to be both safe and realistic. Richard Squeri is a master at the art of combat and accomplishes both while also matching the director’s vision. Bruce Vieira was the sound designer, and the music adds immeasurably to the atmosphere, with some tunes to set the place in time and other music at key points to build tension and create a sense of foreboding in some of the more intense scenes.

Tom Reilly as Porter Milgram and Marsha van Broek as Helga ten Dorp

Deathtrap isn’t deep, but it’s well written, with funny lines, a McGuffin (a plot device that relates to something the protagonist wants but is unexplained) that’s easy to spot and the classic elements of a thriller, designed to make the audience sit up and take notice from the edge of the comfy new seats. It’s good entertainment, which is just what it’s supposed to be.


Deathtrap plays at The Barn Theatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 St. Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through February 17. For tickets and more information, go to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call 415-456-9555.