REVIEW: Avon Players’ ‘Deathtrap’ Thrills Audiences with Shocking Betrayals, Mistrust, and Misdirection

It is rare these days to be truly surprised at the theatre. Especially by a play that is over 40 years old. And it’s also pretty rare for everything to come together in such a spectacular fashion on opening night. But that’s exactly what happens with Avon Players’ latest production Deathtrap. A heart-pounding thriller now playing until February 1.

A thriller in two acts. One set, five characters. A juicy murder in act one, terror in act two, and an ironic and astonishing resolution. This is how Broadway playwright Sidney Bruhl (Jeff Stillman) describes the play to his wife Myra (Lesa Bydalek) that he’s received from a budding playwright named Clifford Anderson (Avon newcomer Patrick Jordan). It’s aptly titled Deathtrap. And that’s the main thing you need to understand about this play. It is actually a play within a play. And even though the actors’ dialogue and actions will give hints as to what is coming, this play will still manage to shock and surprise you.

Written by Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby), Deathtrap is set in the affluent area of Westport, Connecticut in 1978. Sidney Bruhl has made a killing writing murder-thriller plays. In fact, his study in the converted barn off his Colonial home is an homage to his years spent perfecting the art of committing fake murder. Window cards from his plays with titles such as “In For the Kill” and “The Murder Game” dot the bookshelves. The walls are covered with weapons: ax, mace, revolvers, rifles, crossbow, swords, and knives. The narcissistic side of Sidney is slightly pleased Clifford (who attended one of his writing seminars) is seeking out his expertise. But the neurotic side of him is a bit incensed because he didn’t come up with the idea. For a first-time effort, Deathtrap is actually a good play with a potentially big payday and a big payday is what Sidney desperately needs. He hasn’t had a hit or any good ideas in years and the Bruhl’s financial situation is looking pretty bleak. Myra suggests perhaps a collaboration between Sidney and Clifford. One that would allow them to feel the spotlight of success again and one that would allow them to continue the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. Sidney agrees and invites Clifford to Connecticut so they can discuss the matter further.

Could this collaboration turn deadly? Sidney, (L) played by Jeff Stillman talks over the possibilities with young Clifford (R), played by Patrick Jordan, while Sidney’s wife Myra, played by Lesa Bydalek looks on in Avon Players’ production of ‘Deathtrap.’
Photo credit Avon Players Facebook page

Poor Myra. She comes across as such a tortured soul. She’s conflicted because she’s the one that suggests the collaboration and worries that she’s possibly planted the seed in Sidney’s mind to bump off Clifford and claim Deathtrap as his own. Because Sidney has a dry sense of humor, Myra seems unsure as to whether or not he could be desperate enough to commit murder. Bydalek does a superb job of making you feel her rising apprehension. I found myself wondering right along with her what decision Sidney would make. And Stillman’s turn as Sidney is tortuous perfection. On one hand, you can empathize with his predicament, while wanting to use the other hand to smack him. For this play to sell, Sidney has to be believable and Stillman accomplishes the task with aplomb.

Clifford accepts Sidney’s invite and when he first arrives he comes across as a starstruck fan, grateful for the opportunity. But there is definitely something darker brewing underneath his ‘aww-shucks’ demeanor. What a deliciously devilish role for Patrick Jordan to portray in his first Avon Players’ production. As I mentioned earlier, this play features five characters. The character that adds most of the comedy is Bruhl’s psychic neighbor Helga Ten Dorp (Katie Jostock). Helga is over-the-top ridiculous, and it is fabulous to watch. Jostock made her Avon Players debut in the holiday variety show Forever Christmas and it was a delight to see her have a chance to take her comedy even further. Rounding out the cast is Richard Marcil who plays Sidney’s attorney Porter Milgrim. Porter may come off as vanilla, but he is the catalyst for putting into motion the events that lead to the dramatic conclusion in the second act.

This play is sophisticated and filled with smart dialogue that demands you pay attention to every word. In an interview with Shelby TV, Jostock talks about how Director David Reynolds told the actors that “No words are wasted.” And she’s right. Every word serves a purpose. They play off one another and are skillfully woven into a web of intrigue and deceit. Most of the first act is spent dancing around the “what if’s” of committing murder. When it finally happens, it’s a shock. You can feel all the levity get sucked out of the room. I have read and watched many murder/suspense/thrillers and I did not see the twist at the end of the first act coming. In fact, I actually gasped out loud and grabbed the leg of my companion. I think that was the reaction of most of the near-capacity crowd. Once the first murder happens, the floodgates open and an exciting sequence of twists and turns emerge right until the very end of the play.

Deathtrap holds the record for the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway. That’s the other surprising aspect of this play – the comedy. You feel like you shouldn’t laugh, but the brilliant setup of the dialogue delivery makes it hard not to. Keep in mind, it’s not funny in a Clue: The Musical sense, but more along the lines of the recent film Knives Out. I highly recommend this play if you are a fan of the genre or just enjoy high-quality entertainment. You will not be disappointed.

The play runs approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. Please be advised that during the performance there is a loud noise and some smoke used.

Tickets for all shows are $18 ($16 on Sundays for students and seniors). Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online. Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved.

Get caught up in the suspense at one of these remaining performances:

  • Friday, January 24              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 25          8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 26            2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, January 31              8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 1           8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

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