By now, the first lines of Deathtrap are famous in theater lore:
"A thriller in two acts. One set, five characters. A juicy murder in Act one, unexpected developments in Act Two. Sound construction, good dialogue, laughs in the right places. Highly commercial."
The main character, playwright Sidney Bruhl, is analyzing a very good play. The problem is, it's not his. It belongs to a student from a seminar Bruhl taught to keep some money coming in. The income from Bruhl's one big hit 18 years earlier is long gone, and his fame is diminishing rapidly.
But Bruhl could also be reading about Deathtrap itself, for the words are a definition of Ira Levin's play, which opened on Broadway in 1978 and ran for almost 1,800 performances.
The character of Bruhl in some ways is modeled on Levin, who had an early Broadway hit with No Time for Sergeants (1955) and a modest success with Critic's Choice (1960). His record with stage thrillers was less successful, with two of them playing a total of two weeks.
The character and author part company at this point, for Levin's need for income was met by his novels, including Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil, which proved he had the talent for thrillers.
Deathtrap cemented that proof.
Part of the elegance in Levin's design for stage success is its simplicity. Another part is that some of the developments repeat themselves several times in fascinating ways.
And in the hands of the Village Players' capable cast, which is presenting the thriller through Jan. 22, the twists are camouflaged right up until they turn.
Directed by Aggie Alt, the suspense builds as all the action takes place in the study of the Bruhls' rural Connecticut home.
David DeChristopher is masterful as Sidney, whose avarice gleams ever-brighter as he tries to figure out how to take advantage of his student's work. His sense of timing for Levin's droll dialogue is also exquisite.
Lynnie Heinemann plays his wife, Myra, whose wealth is supporting the Bruhls' standard of living, Heinemann has been a joy in such local productions as Arsenic and Old Lace and the Toledo Repertoire Theatre's Rebecca, and her interpretation of Myra's growing unease gives an immeasurable boost to the suspense.
The young playwright Clifford Anderson is portrayed by Tony Dickens, who was also in Rebecca. He is not as smooth as Heinemann and DeChristopher, but he is engaging, and his few tentative moments can be attributed to the character he plays.
Dana Pilrose portrays Helga ten Dorp, a psychic who is renting the next-closest house, and her loony behavior provides most of Deathtrap's humor. Tim Keogh is Porter Milgrim, the Bruhls' lawyer, whose brief time onstage provides some very necessary information that moves the story along.
If there are any failings to Deathtrap, they lie in a few dated references and the fact that so many people have seen it before.
The former can be ignored, and as for the latter, it's always fun to see a new cast handle classic material.
The Village Players comes through in aces.
"Deathtrap" continues through Jan. 22 in the Village Players theater, 2740 Upton Ave. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for seniors and students. Information: 419-472-6817.
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