Every guy who is a playwright, no matter how successful, will admit there is a definite advantage to having a wealthy wife. It just relieves so much of the pressure to write another play.
Sidney (Bill Epstein) wrote several Broadway hits earlier in his career, but now his fountain of creativity has run dry. Actually, it ran dry several years ago. But who’s counting?
Certainly not Sidney’s wife Myra (Kristi Loera). She’s been happy to continue sharing her fortune with such a prominent playwright. Even if he’s not as prominent as he used to be.
All this is established in the first scene of “Deathtrap,” Ira Levine’s quick-witted and clever tribute to the entire genre of murder mystery theater. Fans of these convoluted tales will find within these lines a number of inside theater jokes about carefully planted red herring, foreshadowing with clues and that old stage rule about how if a gun appears in the first act somebody had better be shooting somebody in Act 2.
Clifford (Kevin Lucero Less) is the most likely victim-to-be when he appears in the second scene. An innocent young playwright who seems to have accidentally written a surefire Broadway hit, Clifford has mailed his freshly typed script to Sidney, seeking the older man’s advice.
While most everyone who loves theater is familiar with the “Deathtrap” setup, Live Theatre Workshop has come up with a production directed by Chuck Rankin that includes some interesting choices to freshen up the proceedings. Epstein’s villainous instigator moves with a slow and deliberate manner that makes him seem even more menacing. As his clever scheme to steal Clifford’s play begins to unravel, he becomes more tight-jawed and desperate – but also more calculating.
Lucero Less makes his entrance as a complete bumbler, heightening the psychological distance between victim and villain – though it would be OK if Less stopped chewing on his thumb quite so much. The contrast is a good one, though, and he maintains the character throughout all the plot’s hairpin turns.
Loera’s good-natured Myra keeps her play-opening conflict with Sidney on an even keel. Her character also makes some rapid changes, which Loera navigates in style.
Background music is inserted, just like in the movies, to heighten dramatic moments. References to current events have been added to make the 1978 play feel fresher, as well.
Every murder-mystery worth its salt needs a surprise ending. “Deathtrap” has several. Each twist is more unexpected than the last, cranking the tension still higher. Before it’s over, statistics-minded record-keepers will be asking themselves, “Just what is the indoor record for plot twists these days?”
IF YOU GO
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “Deathtrap” by Ira Levine
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 1
Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.