AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Ira Levin
Directed by Karen Byrnes
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA; (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Despite the rotary phone and manual typewriter, Ira Levin's "Deathtrap" remains as fresh and surprising as it was when it became a Broadway smash in 1978. Celebrating its 72nd season, Hillbarn Theatre makes this point abundantly clear in its production of the classic thriller.

The play is set in the comfortable Westport, Conn., home of Sidney Bruhl (Paul Stout) and his wife, Myra (Paige Cook), who has health problems. Sidney is a well-known playwright who has written a number of wildly successful thrillers, but his recent works have flopped. Moreover, his finances are running low.

We meet him as he sits at his desk reading a play sent to him by a young man who attended one of Sidney's playwriting seminars. Sidney immediately realizes that this play could be a sure-fire Broadway hit. He's also quite jealous. Thus the central question of "Deathtrap" emerges: How far will Sidney go for this script? To say any more would spoil the fun as the plot takes one unexpected, sometimes shocking, twist after another.

As directed by Karen Byrnes, this production works well on the surprise level, but the acting is uneven. Stout's portrayal of Sidney is so smug that it's off-putting from the start. He also tends to overact. Cook's Myra is one-dimensional, resorting to too much hand-wringing as she becomes more nervous about Sidney's intentions.

On the other hand, Adam Magill is convincingly earnest as the young playwright, Clifford Anderson, who's in awe of Sidney. Monica Cappuccini has fun with the play's most outsized character, Helga Ten Dorp, a famous Dutch psychic who is temporarily living next door and who comes by to warn the Bruhls of dire doings. Richard Albert completes the cast as Porter Milgrim, Sidney's level-headed friend and attorney.

The handsome set is by R. Dutch Fritz, while the effective sound and lighting are by Valerie Clear. The costumes are by Mae Matos. Durand Garcia served as fight choreographer.

Although this isn't a perfect production, the play itself is so well written that the audience is in for a big treat.

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