Erin Roche is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Vocal Performance, a strong theater background, and an even stronger desire to showcase the best that Chicago talent has to offer.
l-r Aaron Latterell, McKinley Carter, and Daniel Cantor. Photo by Brett Beiner.
Review: DEATHTRAP at Drury Lane Oakbrook
By Erin Roche
Two acts, one set, five characters– a sharp thriller spun as a play-within-a-play, Ira Levin’s hit DEATHTRAP will surprise even the sharpest connoisseurs of murder mysteries. With a majestic set (Jeff Kmiec) at once both luxurious and ominous, you find your gaze wandering from the plush couches and log beams to a virtual Where’s Waldo of weapons. Every corner and cranny brandishes antique collectibles ranging from pistols and rifles to axes, piano wire, swords, candlesticks, and the list goes on. If your head isn’t spinning from the sheer volume of murder possibilities this set unleashes, the numerous plot twists will do the trick. I literally gasped out loud at one point, and then knew that I should abandon any little theories brewing up in my head and allow myself to get swept away by the deliciously shocking storyline.
And that deliciously shocking storyline—on the surface—is this: Sidney Bruhl is a playwright overdue for another hit. His wife, Myra, is also quite ravenous for a heavier flow of cash and renown. As they sit in Sidney’s grandiose Westport, Connecticut study, the two feel empty and broken despite his many accolades displayed fashionably among his showy earthly possessions. A young and seemingly green graduate of Bruhl’s latest seminar has sent him a script to review in hopes of his guidance and direction. The script is good. Too good. Aspiring playwright Cliff Anderson has the next smash in the genre of suspense, and Bruhl wants a cut of the action—so before you can say, “Whodunnit?” Anderson has been invited for a drink and a partnership pitch performed by the couple. But how far will Bruhl go to procure the only copy of this coveted script?
Daniel Cantor as Sidney Bruhl is brash, erratic, and enterprising, yet somehow endearing enough for you to remain doubtful of his murderous capabilities—a trait most helpful in keeping the mystery palpable. Myra Bruhl, played by McKinley Carter, is convincing as a waspy New Englander struggling to stifle her bursts of upset. Aaron Latterell as Cliff Anderson comes off unassuming and earnest, but little nuance is applied to take his character to a more complex and sinister space in Act Two. The highlight of this show is Cindy Gold—comedy gold might I say as Helga ten Dorp, the campy psychic neighbor that enters as the comic relief you never want to end. She soaks up every moment on stage and her timing could cut glass.
This play is like an iceberg—you think you see all that is there at first glance without realizing the mountain of possibilities lurking below. Thoughtful subtleties unveil along the way—one memorable mark being the record player. Myra wants classical music; Sidney wants rock and roll. Or does he? At times he chooses classical for himself in character-revealing moments of their own. And then there’s the solo from The Eagles’ Hotel California that plays over the climax of the epic murder. This was a coy, tongue-in-cheek choice on behalf of Ryan Hickey as that song is, arguably, a story about a deathtrap in and of itself. Somewhere the lyrics, “You can check out but you can never leave” echo in my head. And after you’ve come to that conclusion some other plot twist shakes things up and you feel as if you’re riding backwards on a roller coaster for which you weren’t fully ready.
Studded among other Ira Levin masterpieces like Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives, DEATHTRAP leaves you doubtless as to why it garnished so much success after its premiere in 1978. I urge you to get gussied up and come to red-velvet-clad, chandelier-adorned Drury Lane for a classic night at the theater where your eyebrows will furiously dance between furrowed and raised—the mark of an audience member relishing in a night of shock and amazement.