Ira Levin—sometime playwright, but better known for middlebrow thrillers with speculative or supernatural themes like Rosemary’s Baby
or The Boys From Brazil
—was surely smiling when he penned this little play back in the 1970s. The author has a good deal of fun satirizing his own desire for the very thing he’s created—a “five-character, one-set money maker.” There are lots of witty little lines about the nature of this kind of literary game, and the sort of person who succeeds at creating new variations on the standard patterns. And indeed, Levin did succeed, because small theaters around the country are still staging the script, decades later.The characters: an aging playwright whose big hit came 18 years ago, and whose most recent plays have been flops (played with a nice touch of cynicism by Bruce Shaw). The playwright’s wife, who’s been supporting him financially (real life spouse Karen Shaw). An aspiring young playwright who’s come up with a hot new thriller—one that just might be worth killing for (actor Michael Campbell, in a role he develops well). A lawyer, who advises the aging playwright (Daniel Clark), and a nearby neighbor, who is psychic, and can sense the rough outline of the murderous events to come (Fritzi Youngstedt, who uses broad humor to enliven her scenes).
The situation is a rather timeless concoction, with multiple schemes and scams in play. But Levin’s script makes a whole lot of rather dated references. You can smile when the characters chat about carbon paper (which becomes a minor element in the emerging plot), and blink at the old manual typewriter that’s onstage—to say nothing of the mentions of George C. Scott, Liv Ullmann and Merv Griffin.
Fortunately, this sort of thing plays better in place like Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre than it would in some other spaces, and indeed a large percentage of the Garbeau’s crowd is old enough to remember Scott, Ullmann and Griffin vividly.
This production isn’t likely to make converts out of unbelievers—if you just plain don’t like murder mysteries, you probably won’t like this one. But for those who are looking for an entertaining (and not very heavy) two hours of scheming and mild suspense, Death Trap should fit the bill. —