Ira Levin's play-within-a-play asks: What would you do for money and success?
By Cory Schachtel | November 17, 2022
It happens to us all, eventually. After a certain amount of time making your way through your career, you find yourself on a downhill professional trajectory, wondering just how close you are to the end.
Then, out of nowhere, a young protégé shows up, with fresh, impressive work in hand, looking for guidance. So you do the only logical thing: figure out how to take credit for the work and not get blamed for murder.
At least that’s the situation facing the characters in Deathtrap, Ira Levin’s 1978 play-within-a-play that was turned into a 1982 film starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon, after running on Broadway for four years. Teatro Live (formerly Teatro La Quindicina) tapped Director Nancy McAlear (who directed the Citadel’s Clue this summer) to direct the comedy thriller for the company’s first play of the season.
“Clue was more full-on comedy, with a mystery in it. Deathtrap is more of a thriller with some really smart comedy,” McAlear says. “It’s got a slow burn with many twists and turns and surprising moments. It feels like a normal play, but then all of a sudden, stuff starts happening.”
The surprising, winding plot will keep audiences enraptured, McAlear says, but the challenge facing protagonist Sidney Bruhl — a playwright facing waning success finds a not-so-ethical way to resuscitate his career and make a lot of money — is something many people encounter, albeit to less dramatic degrees. “I think a lot of the theme is: What would you do for money and success? How far would you go? Because every single character in the play is tainted by that question, or is affected by the possibility of this play making them successful and rich.”
Less relatable to the audience, one hopes, are the fight scenes, for which Fight Director Morgan Yamada was brought in, and McAlear says Designer Chantel Fortin’s set is key to bringing the play to life. “The script is very, very specific about where they are, and it’s described in the text as well. It needs to have a certain largeness to it, and she’s made a great, imposing set in a small space.”
See Deathtrap, November 18 to December 4, at the Varscona Theatre.