Yes, I'd seen “Deathtrap” before, and yes, I was still surprised as I watched it unfold at the Omaha Community Playhouse's Thursday preview.
Not always in ways I expected, but it was a fun evening just the same.
Ira Levin's 1978 comedy-thriller full of homicidal twists and turns is a modern classic, nominated for a best-play Tony before it became a 1982 hit movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.
Past-his-prime mystery playwright Sidney Bruhl hints to his wife, Myra, that a script written by his former seminar student, Cliff Anderson, is so good that Sidney is tempted to bump the guy off and claim it as his own.
Myra, who has a weak heart, isn't sure if Sidney's serious. But a recent string of flops by her husband has left them financially tapped out. She nervously suggests a collaboration, rather than a homicide.
Sidney's lawyer, Porter, has also had playwriting ambitions. And a rather flaky Scandinavian psychic named Helga ten Dorp has recently moved into the house nearest the Bruhls'. Helga gets visions of future events, making everybody nervous.
The rest must be left to unfold on its own, since surprise is everything for a show like “Deathtrap.” Except, maybe, to say Sidney collects antique weapons. The walls of his cozy writing room (great work by scenic designer Jim Othuse and props master Darin Kuehler) are covered with knives, guns, spears, a crossbow, handcuffs, an ax and more.
I loved the movie, yet it was so long ago I didn't really remember the plot details. But as I watched, I felt a little like Helga. I kept recalling what was about to happen just before it did.
That didn't spoil the fun at all. In fact, it kind of enhanced it. And audience reactions at key moments told me plenty of people had no idea what was coming next, and they were clearly enjoying the ride.
Still, director Matthew Pyle's take differs from the movie in a few ways. The opening, loaded with the set-up, felt a little slow and talky. I was impatient for something to happen.
Mike Markey and Connie Lee, as Sidney and Myra, happily aren't doing impressions of Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon. They make the roles their own.
But I got stuck on Caine's cool, calculated version of Sidney. Markey gives a high-strung, nervous take on the playwright that can also work, but I expected the character to be more confident. It took a while to adjust.
Connie Lee makes a less hysterical, more believable Myra than Cannon did. And Isaac Reilly seems younger, less devious or menacing than Christopher Reeve did playing Cliff.
Smaller character roles are deftly handled by veterans Paul Schneider, underplaying buttoned-down lawyer Porter, and Judy Radcliff, effective comic relief as she plays psychic Helga with broad, quirky strokes.
Pyle's expertise with fight choreography shows in several scenes, and the thriller aspects of the show are strong — perhaps stronger than the comedic, though all five cast members scored laughs. This is a solid, entertaining evening, if half a notch shy of spectacular.
Expect a bit of profanity, a scary moment or two (especially during a violent thunderstorm) and a different ending if you know the movie (I liked this one better). The show runs two hours plus intermission.
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