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"Write what you know," the old adage goes. For centuries, the result has been the venerable show-about-a-show. This has played well in opera, movies, and stage, because the old adage is reliable. What if you are a washed-up playwright with writer's block and too much whiskey? Start from there and see where it goes. Practically writes itself. An example of such work can be seen in Davidson Community Player's current production of Ira Levin's Deathtrap.
Author Ira Levin wasn't entirely washed up, having written The Boys from Brazil (both the novel and the screenplay) two years before in 1976, and, before that, Rosemary's Baby in 1967. However, his successes on the stage were many years in the past. He had a hit play adapting No Time for Sergeants in 1956, providing the career beginning for Andy Griffith, and after a spell, Gomer Pyle. After that, came a series of misfires and outright bombs, including the ironically titled Critic's Choice of 1960; it closed quickly. Levin, much given to self-referential works, used Deathtrap to push the show-about-a-show concept to an extreme and see how far he could take it.
The Armour Street Theatre in Davidson is about as small of a venue as will work for a theater. Patrons are well advised to buy tickets in advance to make sure there is a seat waiting for them. This play, with one set for both acts and five actors, is well suited to a theater this size. DCP has figured out how to make this finite volume work. Thankfully, there are many performances over this run to find a place at a convenient date. (Be prepared for their bathroom facilities.)
Director Stuart Jonap put on quite the show this evening. The décor was heavy on the wall displays of various weaponry, with some old-style wooden beams and the requisite thunder and lightning from outside. The play opens with playwright Sidney (Tim Hager) and his long-suffering (and likely well-to-do) wife, Myra (Emily Klingman), dealing with Sidney's writer's block and depression. Sidney hasn't had a hit in eighteen years, pretty much identical to Ira Levin's situation. He gets a phone call from a young star-struck playwright much impressed by Sidney/Ira's reputation, who has a new play to show him, called (of course) Deathtrap.
Now here's an odd touch. The phone on Sidney's desk, like everything on the set, harkens back to roughly the mid-seventies, and so is of older design. However, apparently a rotary dial phone is hard to find these days; they had a fake retro phone with buttons where the dial would have been, arrayed in a circle in the old way. Thus when Sidney went to what from a distance looked like a rotary phone, and pushed buttons, the audience cracked up, and not in a good way, seeing as how almost everyone there remembers the old phones quite well. Perhaps the prop department can get a real rotary phone?
The young playwright, Clifford (Mike McGarr in his DCP premiere performance), makes quite the impression on Sidney. (I won't spoil the convoluted plot for you.) Soon after, the Russian psychic Helga (Della Knowles) comes in to give ominous warnings and chew the scenery a bit. In the second act, they are joined by lawyer Porter Milgram (James Chandler's first DCP appearance as well). Suffice it to say that all but the wife Myra are psychopaths, which always makes for an enjoyable evening out on the town. Not necessarily for Myra, though.
In this era of trigger warnings, it would be prudent to know that the play does include violence, however obviously comedic; displays of weaponry; and a gunshot.
The two main characters are a gay couple, although this is treated in a low-key manner that seems almost quaint in our time. The movie version from 1982 was more explicit. There, a long kiss between Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine was estimated to have cost $10 million in ticket sales. Audiences were not prepared to see Superman kiss a dude. Perhaps this play would be something to show Mike Pence in the re-education camp, come the revolution; although he might just pray the gay play away.
All around, a fun evening, well performed by actors who know what they are doing. The capacity crowd enjoyed the performance, and this promises to be a solid run through mid-October.
Deathtrap continues through Sunday, October 14. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.