Playing Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 17 at the historic Woodstock Opera House, Theatre 121’s Deathtrap has all the elements necessary to be a hit.
Described as a comedic thriller, on the surface Deathtrap is the story of Sidney Brhul, a once successful playwright struggling to come up with a new hit, and his almost overly adoring wife Myra’s efforts to keep him happy. Down on himself for not having a blockbuster idea of his own, Sidney discovers that one of his students (Clifford Anderson) has written a surefire hit. Much to his wife’s dismay, Sidney hatches a plot to kill Clifford and sell the script as his own.
Under the skilled direction of Mike Frale, Deathtrap is a fun and entertaining way to spend an evening. While some directors approach this particular play as a thriller with a touch of comedy, Frale has embraced interpreting Ira Levin’s words as a comedy with a thriller backdrop. It’s an approach that works.
The set is incredibly important to the intricacies of the plot. Meant to represent the work study of a famous playwright, the sprawling set is decorated with posters and props from Sidney’s glory days. Set dressers Elaine Cashmore and Tracey Lanman deserve high praise. The duo also was responsible for the props for the show, a task they again accomplished with panache.
Of course, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. The script is full of twists and turns that keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
As Sidney, Matthew Schufreider is in his element with the comedic take on the thriller. Schufreider has a style of physical comedy mixed with funny asides that is reflective of such possible influences as Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, and Leslie Nielsen. He’s a likeable fellow.
As Sidney’s wife Myra, Emily Thompson is a delight. She bubbles with energy and is so supportive of her husband, it’s almost annoying (but not quite).
As Sidney’s protégé Clifford, Ethan Sherman is the picture of charisma. Sherman has an effortless charm that just makes the audience fall in love with him. He is the best part of an all-around quality production.
Rounding out the cast is Nicole Lapas as Helga ten Drop and Frank Dello as Porter Milgrim. Helga is a hilarious German psychic whose powers of prediction paint trouble for Sidney’s plan to slay Clifford and take credit for his script. Porter is Sidney’s no-nonsense lawyer. Both Lapas and Dello do fine jobs in their respective roles.
Frale’s embrace of the comedy aspect of Deathtrap is on display even before the show starts. His choice of pre-show music sets the mood for a night of fun.
Lighting designer Deb Holmen does a nice job of making the stage reflect the illusion of a bad rainstorm. Fight choreographer Shannon Lee Day keeps the physical altercations in the play very believable. Production coordinator Lisa Czarny-Hyrkas has done an amazing job getting all the pieces in place for the creative team and cast to create magic.
As Theatre 121’s first foray into live theatre since the pandemic closed performance spaces almost 2 years ago, Deathtrap is a winner.
Deathtrap plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. The historic Woodstock Opera House is located at 121 Van Buren Street in downtown Woodstock. For ticket information call the box office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.
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