Fight choreography was Matthew Pyle's door into the world of directing.
Trained as an actor at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Pyle also took graduate-level courses in directing. After graduation he used his martial-arts background as a fight choreographer for several Cincinnati theaters, a backdoor entrance to directing.
Pyle will use all of those skills when he directs “Deathtrap,” a classic thriller that includes stage combat. The show opens Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
It's Pyle's first directing gig in Omaha, where his range as an actor has drawn notice since he moved here five years ago. He played the husband in “Rabbit Hole,” a Blue Barn drama about grieving over the death of a child. In “Legally Blonde” at the Playhouse, he drew laughs as a sexy parcel deliveryman at a beauty shop.
He also did fight choreography at the Playhouse for “Flyin' West,” a period drama, and “The Fantasticks,” a small-stage musical, last season.
“Deathtrap” is yet another genre, a murder thriller packed with plot twists and laughs. The 1978 Broadway hit is about Sidney, a past-his-prime playwright desperate for a hit. Stealing a play by Clifford, a brilliant young unknown, becomes tempting.
Of course, Sidney (Mike Markey) will have to kill Clifford (Isaac Reilly) to get away with it. And Sidney's weak-hearted wife, Myra (Connie Lee), poses a problem. A psychic neighbor (Judy Radcliff) and Sidney's lawyer (Paul Schneider) also figure in the mix. It comes in handy that Sidney collects antique weapons and mounts them on the walls of his home.
Pyle praised the set design work of Jim Othuse and props designer Darin Kuehler's handmade weapons, including a working crossbow and a mace with chain.
“In a lot of ways it's a play within a play,” Pyle said last week. “The violence in it is a lot of fun to do for someone with my background.”
He said his approach to directing is informed by his experience as an actor, giving his veteran players room to explore while subtly shaping the work.
While the play and a 1982 movie version have been around long enough to be spoilers, Pyle said they're far enough in the past that many who saw them won't recall the clever reversals of fortune.
The show won't be set in a specific year, but the plot only works in the era before cell phones and home computers. Lindsay Pape's costumes leave an impression of the late 1970s to early 1980s.
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