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Tangled web

Don’t try to figure out Deathtrap. Just go along for the ride

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


What’s with all the death?

The Fort Wayne Civic Theater big summer musical was Curtains, a comedy about a theater-loving detective trying to find a murderer among the conniving cast of a down-on-its-luck stage company.

And now, opening the Civic’s 2010/2011 season proper on September 11, is Deathtrap, a twisty and twisted story of murder and the kind of people who commit it.

So, I ask the Civic’s Executive Director Phillip Colglazier: what’s with all the death?

“It just makes for good drama, you know,” he laughs. “In a fun kinda way. I wouldn’t say it’s a light subject…”

All joking aside, Deathtrap delivers its share of laughs, but it isn’t necessarily played for laughs. The story concerns the triangle between successful playwright Sidney Bruhl (Robert Phillips); his friend and protégée Clifford Anderson (Todd Frymier); and Bruhl’s wife Myra (Teresa Bower), with clairvoyant Helga Ten Dorp (Julie Donnell) and attorney Porter Milgrim (Lee Kelso) getting mixed up in the machinations. The tone is disturbing, the characters a little creepy, and their motivations not of the selfless kind.

The script is by Ira Levin, a thriller writer who knows how to give an audience the willies — his novels include Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and Boys From Brazil — and can also “write smart.” Deathtrap was nominated for a Tony for Best Play in 1978, and also has the distinction of being the longest running thriller on Broadway (four years), and Colglazier attributes its enduring success to Levin’s sophisticated plotting and witty script. “The suspense just keeps moving forward,” he says. “Like in many murder mysteries, you try to guess what’s coming up next, and there’s always a twist or turn that’s unexpected.”

Todd Frymier, who plays aspiring playwright Clifford Anderson, agrees. Frymier read the script of Deathtrap many years ago, before he had seen a production of the play, and says it was more like reading a book than a script — he just couldn’t wait to find out what happens next. “I just kept turning the pages,” he says. “For a script to do that… I found that very intriguing.”

“This isn’t like an Agatha Christie play, for example,” he continues. “In something like that, you’re supposed to try to figure out what’s going on. But with Deathtrap, you’re probably better off just sitting back and enjoying the ride.”

Also, like any good mystery, the script has many layers that reveal themselves the more closely you listen to it. “We’ve been discovering little nuggets in the script during rehearsal,” Colglazier says. “It takes two or three times of hearing the dialogue to get the full richness of what’s there.”

There are only five characters in Deathtrap, but Colglazier says the set was designed to bring all the action down front, making the audience feel more involved with the story. But there’s also a gothic feel to the set — it sort of looms over the characters, making the twists and turns, moves and counter moves, seem all the more plausible. After all, Deathtrap is, essentially, about how successfully pulling off one nasty scheme makes it a little easier to contemplate the next one, and how there’s really no such thing as a “partner” when it comes to crime. Some of the characters are far from admirable, but Colglazier says they’re just recognizable enough so that it makes an audience wonder. “What’s interesting about it is that you watch these people, these characters, and you start to think ‘yes, I could see where someone might go there…’”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents Deathtrap

Saturday, September 11 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, September 12 at 2:00 PM

Friday September 17 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 18 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, September 19 at 2:00 PM

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $22/adults; $14/age 23 and under; $20/Sunday Senior Matinee

Box Office: 424-5220

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.