Front Row Reviews

“Deathtrap” Spins a Delightful Web of Greed and Deception

Benicia’s “Deathtrap” is a gripping dark comedy that maintains tension throughout, leaving the audience in suspense about who can be trusted, and who will survive. 

In this captivating play, frustrated Sidney Bruhl (Joe Fitzgerald), a once-successful playwright from Westport, Connecticut, sits in his large Victorian wooden-beamed study with an antique desk, old typewriter, and phone. A plethora of murder tools adorn the room along with his theatre posters. His simple but doting wife, Myra (Shauna Shoptaw), embroiders on the couch in front of the French doors.

Sidney’s creative juices have run dry. For eighteen years, nothing has come his way and his wife’s trust fund is dwindling.

He receives a copy of a thriller script titled “Deathtrap” from a prior seminar student, Clifford Anderson (Charlie Hodes). Sidney believes it is a Broadway hit, a perfectly written two-act thriller, with five characters and, of course, murder.

Sidney is jealous and tells Myra he would “kill” to have a play like “Deathtrap” in his name.

Benicia Theatre
Photo: Patricia L. Morin

Playwright Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” is a play within a play as its characters recreate the actual script Sidney received leading us on a multi-layered comedic and winding-suspenseful path.

Tension mounts gradually as Bruhl’s sociopathic mind unfolds depths of his devious options: perhaps some collaboration to tweak the script with some unneeded rewrites or maybe even death. He invites Clifford to his house, entices him with an offer to collaborate to help with his “obviously flawed” script, and requests he bring the original, any copies, and notes with him.

Clifford accepts his invite. But to go further with the plot is to give away the best of the play.  

Fitzgerald delivers an exceptional performance as the desperate, witty playwright. We can see his conniving mind work and feel his total lack of empathy, much like several political leaders today.

Shoptaw shines as the subtle, suspicious wife, Myra. She struggles with her husband’s murderous suggestion as she realizes their financial troubles. The tension between Fitzgerald and Shoptaw is palpable and enjoyable to watch. 

Chameleon-like Clifford, versatile Hodes, keeps us enthralled and curious as he delivers on his ever-changing roles as the play unfolds. Their humorous neighbor, flamboyant and intrusive Helga Ten Dorp (Annie Larson) adds a delightful layer to the plot. She becomes embroiled as the “renowned psychic” who claims she can identify a murderer, but keeps us guessing. Can she? Porter Milgram, (Mark Shepherd) a lawyer who acts more like a greedy detective completes the cast.

Director GA Klein keeps the play light-hearted fun as dry humor oozes from each scene. The pacing and acting excel throughout the play.

“Deathtrap” teaches us that there are no real winners when greed is the motivation and deception the goal. Come, enjoy the twists and turns, and guess who dies.

“Deathtrap,” written by Ira Levin, Directed by G.A. Klein, Lighting Designer, Dave Baker, Sound Operator, Veronica Bearce, Scenic Painter, Beate Bruhl, at Benicia Theatre Group, Benicia, California. Info: Plays through November 12.

Photo: Michael Van Auken