THEATER REVIEW: ‘Deathtrap’s’ got lotsa plot and a 1st class cast

“Deathtrap” / Copake Grange Theater

PLOT, PLOT, PLOT! “I plot, therefore I am!” sayeth Ira Levin, the author of “Deathtrap.” (No, he didn’t really say that, but he could have.) In this play he nests his plotty murders like Russian dolls and gives the plot-device such a starring role that it thumps its chest and moves from epistemology to Peter Pan shouting “Oh the cleverness of me!” By the final murder in this mystery there is nothing to do but laugh, and the audience does–unabashedly.

The playwriting embraces a smart but surfacy conceit; and if you prefer multifaceted characters and profound insights, this play may not be for you. However, “Deathtrap” has won lots of awards and has been reproduced on film and by theater companies everywhere. For a few hours in the rustic Copake Grange, it works.

Out front, brains are mildly engaged, emotions and positive notions about humanity are largely set aside, and on stage, seductive novelty reigns. (We Americans crave novelty and often happily settle for it.)

Matt Leinung (l) as Sidney Bruhl, Constance Lopez as Myra Bruhl, Peter Mostachetti as Cliff Anderson in The Two of Productions’ “Deathtrap” at the Copake Grange through February 23. Photo contributed

If you’ve been watching The Two of Us Productions for a few years, you must be impressed. Each year, director Stephen Sanborn demonstrates a surer, more sophisticated dealing with material. His “Deathtrap” seems to have handily accomplished everything it needed to. Or maybe a five-person, one-set play is child’s play to someone who often tackles big musicals with full orchestras. Or maybe he wields a secret weapon with the contributions of his partner, actress Constance Lopez.

Speaking of whom. . .She plays the wife of Sidney, a playwright. Sometimes The Two of Us Productions seems to choose plays as vehicles for the very gifted Lopez, and, if so, she usually proves that the policy has been wise.

This time, her character disappears quickly from the plotty plot-plot. Of course, that does not happen until after she has created some utterly convincing tear-duct and sinus effluvia along with a ton of real-life character-fragility and fury.

As her playwriting husband, Sidney, the cool and handsome Matt Leinung is less than comfortable in panic mode, but those moments are few, and he moves on to coolly live the character’s murderous amorality. When he mouths the words “I love you” to his new (male) partner, in the audience we are all thinking “Yeaaah sure you do. . . .”

Sidney’s new partner in love and crime is young playwright Clifford. Peter Mostachetti (who plays him at the Grange) seems more like an NFL halfback with a sly high-functioning IQ, but murder is quite okay with Clifford too.

The set (“developed“ by Michael Virtuoso) is attractive with tasteful furniture and flowery drapes that speak well the Connecticut decorating lingo of a few decades ago. Maybe you’ll wonder if, even in the service of a funny playwriting device, it is a good thing to normalize murder. Out there in the dark, we passively take it in–murder as a reasonable path to fame and financial bliss.
Even Sidney’s neighbor, the psychic Helga (warmly played here by Cyndi Miller) and Sidney’s family lawyer (a convincing John Costa) develop a yen for Broadway success.
Who can resist the lure of show-biz?
“Deathtrap” runs through February 23. Get tickets at (518) 329-6293.

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