Laughs and Chills Compete in PPTOPA’s Solid Deathtrap

Brandon Kraut as Clifford Anderson and Richard Weinstock as Sidney Bruhl.

By Aaron Krause

Suspense, conflict, and comedy merge irresistibly in Ira Levin’s Tony Award-winning play, Deathtrap. It’s one of the longest-running plays in Broadway history, and the longest running comic thriller to run on the Great White Way.

For much of the piece, Levin keeps you guessing; you don’t know what will happen next. In addition, a dramatic Dutch psychic lady named Helga Ten Dorp is bound to keep you in stitches. And the piece’s self-awareness produces chuckles as well.

In Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts’ (PPTOPA) fine production of Deathtrap, which runs through March 24, Brooke Lynn White portrays the psychic dramatically, yet with enough sincerity that it’s hard to keep from laughing. And the performer nails a Dutch accent.

Meanwhile, an intense Richard Weinstock, as desperate playwright Sidney Bruhl, lowers his eyebrows and presses his lips to form a determined expression. You sense that this man is about to do something dastardly. Truly, those multiple weapons mounted on a nearby wall must look quite tempting to him. Will he grab a weapon? Which one? When?

These are some of the questions you may ask while experiencing PPTOPA’s production, under Greg Schuh’s solid direction.

The two-hour professional mounting, which includes an intermission, offers an afternoon or evening of largely escapist live theater. True, you may also walk away wondering what is the worst thing you’re capable of doing in order to succeed at something. But that is about the extent of thought-provoking material that this play offers.

Deathtrap takes place during the 1970s in Bruhl’s upscale house in wealthy Westport, Conn. The man hasn’t turned out a successful play in a long time. He’s starving for a hit. But the script in his hands might be his ticket out of writer’s block. The only problem is that the play, also titled Deathtrap, is not his. Rather, Clifford Anderson, one of his students from a seminar he taught at a nearby college, penned the play. And Bruhl is so starved for a hit, he could literally kill for one.

Bruhl’s wife, Myra (Leslie Zivin Kandel), hopes her husband is joking when he suggests that he could murder Anderson. But then Bruhl invites Anderson over to discuss his play.  Once the younger man arrives, it becomes hard for your eyes not to dart from Bruhl to the weapon-decorated wall. By now, it’s not a matter of if, but rather when Bruhl will use a weapon against Anderson. Indeed, Deathtrap is not a whodunnit, but rather a good old-fashioned suspenseful comedy. With clever dialogue, humor, and multiple plot twists, it is no wonder why Levin scored a major hit with Deathtrap.

While the psychic’s eccentricity and self-assuredness is the source of the play’s comedy, laughs also come courtesy of the play’s meta-theatricality.

Meta theater results when a play is aware of itself as a theatrical piece, and comments on and engages with that awareness to enhance the storytelling. For instance, in Deathtrap, one character tells another to see things from an audience’s viewpoint. The person speaking gestures toward us. It’s funny, partly, because we are used to watching a play with the “Fourth Wall” separating us (the real world) from the fictional, yet seemingly just as real world of the characters. In fact, at times during Deathtrap, the line between fantasy and reality blurs to the point that we don’t know which is which.

The actors, wearing character-appropriate costumes (no designer is listed), nail comic timing – they know just when to pause, gesture, or do something else to achieve the desired comic effect.

In addition to Schuh’s emphasis on comedy, he directs with an attention to detail. For example, an arm around someone’s shoulder conveys support as much as a calming spoken word.

Speaking of communicating non-verbally, Kandel as Myra Bruhl employs vivid facial expressions to convey emotion. In at least one scene, her wide, dark eyes deftly convey emotional pain and wariness when Myra is troubled by her husband’s actions. Also, Kandel’s voice betrays anguish when her character is perturbed.

Weinstock, as Sidney Bruhl, Kandel as his wife, and White as the psychic are not the only stars of PPTOPA’s production. In addition, a youthful, fresh-faced Brandon Kraut imbues Anderson, at first, with credible charm and affability before adopting a different demeanor. To say much more, or be more specific would spoil the play’s plot twists.

To the actors’ credit, palpable tension exists between Weinstock’s Bruhl and Kraut’s Anderson. Also, Aaron Bravo succeeds in the smaller role of attorney Porter Milgrim, lending the character a formal yet pleasant aura.

Behind the scenes, set designer John Blessed has created a homey and spacious house for the Bruhls’ residence. With brown and blue-green walls, the place looks inviting and well kept. In addition, we clearly see the many weapons on the wall (they are props from the fictional playwright’s previous pieces and items he collected). The set also includes details such as play posters, making it obvious that the residence’s occupants are live theater people.

Meanwhile, lighting designer Michael Graham uses mostly realistic lighting, as befits this realistic play. However, during violent scenes, Graham wisely uses red lighting to suggest blood. Also, blinking lights suggest lightning outside.
Lightning, combined with realistic-sounding thunder, reinforces the drama and sense of danger in the play (the program does not mention a sound designer).

During the reviewed performance, you could hear gasps from the audience as the plot twists unfolded.  Truly, PPTOPA’s production offers an afternoon or evening of fun while providing theatergoers with a chance to support local theater. To borrow a line from Ira Gershwin, who could ask for anything more?

Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts’ production of Deathtrap runs through March 24. The venue is the Susan B. Katz Theater of the Performing Arts at the River of Grass ArtsPark. The address is 17195 Sheridan St. in Pembroke Pines. For tickets and more information, go to You can also call (954) 890-1868.

This entry was posted in Performances, Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.