I saw Deathtrap in New York in 1979, with John Cullum as Sidney Bruhl and the immortal Marian Seldes, that “most durable actress,” as Myra; she is named as such in the Guinness Book of World Records for having appeared in all 1,793 performances. Victor Garber played Clifford Anderson, and I can barely remember when he wasn’t a silver fox. I do remember that the play delighted me down to my toes—you can be scared and tickled at the same time? How sophisticated. Long out of my tender 20s, I felt that way again at the Aux Dog last weekend watching Albuquerque’s latest rendition of Deathtrap directed by Colin A Borden.
Sidney Bruhl (Dehron Foster) is a has-been playwright in search of a new hit play but somebody left the door open to the renovated barn he writes in and his Muse has galloped away. It’s been a long, dry stretch and he and his wife Myra (Ronda Lewis) are going through her money like Justified cuts through mud. One of his seminar students, Clifford Anderson (Nicholas Johnson), has mailed a manuscript (it’s 1977) to Sidney to read; apparently, it’s a blockbuster titled Deathtrap.
Sidney wonders aloud if he should invite this Clifford person to the house—and kill him, claiming this wondrous new play as Sidney’s own. Myra is shocked, amused, in denial, then ultimately convinced that Sidney means it. When Sidney extends the invitation and Clifford shows up, she watches with growing suspicion as her husband manipulates the innocent young man into his own death trap.
Audiences seeing this play for the first time will thrill to the plot twists and turns after Sidney murders Clifford. Theatergoers familiar with the play, be assured that you will find fresh laughter (and a couple of screams) in the performances and bits of business of this fine professional cast. Foster as the wicked Bruhl plays all the notes—bitter, caustic, pompous, entitled, homicidal in his desperation to be on top once again—that allow us to cheer for the Fates ranged against him. We love the hapless Myra because Lewis renders the character indelibly empathetic, and sweetly blind to the true character of the man she has married. Johnson takes a handsome turn as Clifford. The character actor Mike “Eddie” Dethlefs embodies Porter Milgrim, Sidney’s lawyer, who figures prominently in the last scene.
As for the Fates, they are embodied in Helga ten Dorp (Michelle Volpe Roe), a famed European psychic who has rented the house next door. She visits to tell the Bruhls that she feels great pain coming from their house (ya think?). Helga is the comic relief to the tension engendered by Sidney’s twisted plans and Volpe Roe is a breath of fresh air as the psychic. Rather than the blousy gypsy portrayed on Broadway and in the film version of Deathtrap, she plays Helga as a world-traveling, stylish hippy. Every pronouncement is dramatic, every gesture commanding. Volpe Roe steals the scene when she’s on stage, as Helga was meant to do; she is also the hilarious catalyst for summing-up of this tidy thriller. With Helga recounting the action, we don’t miss a straight-faced Inspector Goole or Hercule Poirot.
The set must be mentioned here. Chekhov said (in one iteration anyway), “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” Bruhl’s over-the-top collection of antique murder weapons cracks me up. You’ll wonder which one(s) will be used, and on whom. The fireplace glows intermittently throughout the play, a suitable place for burning incriminating documents. And the all-important French doors leading to the garden are aptly situated. An A+ goes to Set Designers Bradley Roe and Claudia Azumendi, not least for knowing what to do with a staircase.
—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes ABQArts.com.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at auxdogtheatre.org, by calling 505-596-0607, or at the box office before the performance.
Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
3011-3015 Monte Vista Boulevard, NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106
Box Office Messages: 505-596-0607
Large photo above, Michelle Volpe Roe as Helga Ten Drop and Ronda Lewis as Myra Bruhl. Smaller photo, Dehron Foster as Sidney Bruhl. Photos and front-page poster by Russell Maynor.