Murder by numbers
In what’s become an annual tradition, the Delta King honors the holiday of Halloween by giving us the thrills and chills of murder and mayhem. It’s haunted us with The Woman in Black and last year’s production of Stephen King’s Misery. This year, it’s the murder-mystery classic Deathtrap.
Deathtrap feels more classic than it is. The play actually made its debut in 1978, but it has all the earmarks of earlier mystery parlor plays. That’s because it cleverly makes fun of the murder-mystery formula by duplicating it. As the main character—a failing playwright—explains, a hit murder mystery is just “a thriller in two acts: one set, five characters, a juicy murder in act one, unexpected development in act two.”
So, in Deathtrap you’ll find:
One set: a home office with a typewriter on a writer’s desk, a bar, a couch, and a wood-burning stove. Oh, and mystery-theater playbills and murder weapons line the walls.
Five characters: a playwright, his wife, his writing student, his lawyer, and a neighborhood psychic.
Act one: Once-successful playwright Sydney Bruhl hasn’t had a hit in years and is facing paralyzing writer’s block. When he blurts out, “I’d kill to have a successful play!” his wife, Myra, laughs uncomfortably. So do we. Sydney’s writing student, Clifford, mails him one of only two copies of a wonderful play he’s written. The requisite juicy murder does take place in act one, but watch out for twists, turns and red herrings.
Act two: Unexpected developments, in the form of psychic neighbors and nosy lawyers, intrude.
Deathtrap is formulaic, but it’s a fun formula. What the Delta King Theatre brings to this production is one perfect setting (a creaky, old wooden boat), five talented actors, one skillful director (Adrienne Sher) and two acts that don’t fail. The cast is a well-oiled machine. Don Hayden and Nisa Davis Hayden, married in real life, play the devious husband and wily wife to the hilt. Shaun Carroll gives his character just the right amount of naiveté and moxie, while Graham Scott Green is a pleasant addition. But it’s Martha Omiyo Kight that threatens to steal the show with her wacky psychic comedy. As Sydney says, a successful murder mystery also has “laughs in all the right places.”