Friday, February 25, 2011

Deathtrap : Northside Theatre Company : Captivating!

Deathtrap, a comic-thriller that made its Broadway debut in 1978, was an enormous critical and commercial hit. Its success is largely due to its fanciful embrace of the classic elements of the genre.  Playwright Ira Levin revels in the use of misdirection, labyrinthine twists and dark humor with the craftiness of a magician and it all falls into place beautifully.

Of course, it takes a cast of equal cunning to pull it off.  And it’s our good fortune that the company of players at Northside Theatre knows precisely how to sustain the illusion. Aided by the sly direction of Angie Higgins and astute sound and lighting design, one is in for a captivating two hours.

Matt Singer plays Sidney Bruhl, a mystery writer and teacher in desperate need of a hit, with wry humor and effete charm. Despite the character’s startling amorality, Singer somehow imbues him with an undeniable likability. It’s a deliciously wicked, assured performance.

Melinda Marks plays his wife, Myra, and has the more difficult task of playing it straight. She’s as much an unwitting victim of the plot’s duplicity as we are, so it’s important that she reacts with a convincing realism. She succeeds, making the most of her less colorful but more emotionally complex role. And she nails it with her expression of absolute horror as she witnesses a violent garroting.

Cliff Anderson, a former student and fledgling writer, provides Sidney with a potential exit out of his predicament.  Jason Arias approaches the part initially with a guileless vitality that lights up the stage. As the story unfolds, however, he undergoes a nuanced transformation with darker shades that he handles with an effortless aplomb.

Both Shereen Merriam and James Lucas provide key supporting turns. Most notably, Ms. Merriam steals her scenes as a Danish psychic, Helga ten Dorp, delivering her lines with an engaging, lilting accent. She’s very funny!

Honorable mention must be given to the foreboding set design featuring menacing antique props hanging from walls, and to the period (‘70s) costume design. No other small theatre company is as adept in squeezing maximum value out of a limited budget!

A better value for one's entertainment dollar cannot be found in the South Bay. Hurry to this little venue with the gigantic creative talent!

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