San Diego Theater Review: DEATHTRAP (Lamplighters Community Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on October 20, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Tony-nominee Deathtrap ran for over four years (1978-1982) on Broadway, with good reason. Ira Levin’s script is intellectual, witty, full of twists, and – done right full of suspense. I recall being on the edge of my seat in 1981, catching Farley Granger (notably of Hitchcock’s Rope) and Ernie Townsend (heartthrob of my favorite daytime serial, The Edge of Night) in the two key roles. Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Reeve starred in an excellent film version in 1982.

The struggle in reviewing this particular program is a striking twist halfway through Act I; there is no really good way to describe the bulk of the plot without unveiling that. So understand that a bit of vagueness in describing the plot is intended here, for the enhancement your enjoyment.

The setting is the home of Sidney and Myra Bruhl (David Dartt and Ruth Russell) in New England. Sidney is a celebrated playwright who’s masterpiece The Murder Game made him instantly famous. Unfortunately for him, nothing he has written since has measured up and he is feeling both uninspired and financially tight. Myra tries to be comforting and encouraging, but he doesn’t hold back in letting her know how low he has sunk, even resorting to teaching college playwriting to make ends meet.

To make matters worse, one of his students, Clifford (Tanner Vydos) has mailed him a carbon copy (it is 1978, after all) of the play he’s writing, and it’s better than anything Sidney has written since his one-and-only success. Myra suggests inviting Cliff down to discuss the play, minimize just how good it is, and offer to collaborate on it, revitalizing Sidney’s career. When power, fame, and money get involved — not to mention busybody psychic neighbor Helga (Connie Terwilliger) — it’s anybody’s guess who might be finding themselves in a deathtrap.

Levin delights in his play-within-a-play references that work beautifully throughout, reminding us of past references that play out later.

Lamplighters is a community theater space and has certainly staged an enjoyable production of it, with Mr. Vydos nailing his character the strongest. Having seen how far the characters can be taken, though, in both the movie and on Broadway, the excesses are missed. Sidney could be portrayed creepier, Myra could be more high-strung, and Helga could be more outlandish – all of which would have enhanced both the humor and the suspense.

Nevertheless, community theater presents a great opportunity to make good drama accessible to more people at a third of the cost of a ticket at, say, The Old Globe. Lamplighters brings out good energy and a great script for us to ponder, laugh along with, and occasionally even jump in our seat over.

photos by Ken Jacques

Lamplighters Community Theatre, 5915 Severin Drive
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on Nov 5, 2023
for tickets ($21 – $26), call 619.303.5092​ or visit Lamplighters

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