Originally created 11/05/99

'Deathtrap' springs surprises



After producing a run of successful farces, Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre director Steve Walpert was hard-pressed to outdo himself.

"After every show, someone would come up and say, `That was even funnier than the last one,"' said Mr. Walpert.

Deathtrap, which plays for three consecutive weekends beginning today, is definitely not a farce, but it combines a hint of comedy with fear-tinged suspense. "It's almost a parody of a murder mystery," said Gene Howard, who plays the protagonist.

But there's no slapstick humor involved. The comedy lies elsewhere.

"Comedy is only one part of it. It is so word-dependent; the words are so critical, and the timing is important," Mr. Howard said.

Set in suburban Connecticut, Deathtrap is about once-successful playwright Sidney Bruhl, who has been in a lengthy slump. A young man who attended one of Bruhl's seminars sends him a copy of a play he has written. It is a marvelous script, and Bruhl plans to invite the student (played by Russ Harlan) to his house to collaborate on the play with him, or kill him and take the work as his own.

Bruhl's style of decorating is unique -- a menagerie of weapons including a guillotine, crossbow, handguns and daggers (many mementos of his past productions) adds a macabre flavor to his estate.

The genre of the play invites the audience to try to figure out the ending. However, cast members say there are too many twists and turns to predict the outcome.

"You are never sure. You think something might happen, and it doesn't," Mr. Walpert said.

Keeping the audience in suspense adds to the actors' challenges, according to Mr. Howard. "You have to find a balance of the humorous aspects and the psychopathic ones without tipping off the audience," he said.

Deathtrap was written by Ira Levin, whose successful novels and plays include Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil. Deathtrap debuted on Broadway in January 1978 and was an immediate box-office hit. It ran for more than four years, closing on June 27, 1982, after more than 1,800 performances.

It was made into a film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve in 1982 while the play was still running on Broadway. However, the play and the film aren't exactly the same.

"The play is much better than the movie," said Mr. Howard.

Deathtrap will be presented at the Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre today and Saturday and Nov. 12-13 and 18-20. Dinner begins at 7 p.m., and the performance is at 8.

Reservations are $23 for military personnel and senior citizens and $26 for others. The play is not recommended for children. To make reservations, call 793-8552.

On stage

What:

Deathtrap, produced by the Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre

When:

Dinner at 7 and performance at 8 tonight and Saturday night and Nov. 12-13 and 18-20

Cost:

$23 military, $26 others

Phone:

793-8552

Reach Charmain Brackett at (803) 441-6927 or czbrackett@hotmail.com.