American playwright Ira Levin is known as the Stephen King of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The author of Rosemary’s Baby, Sliver, A Kiss Before Dying, The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil, many of Levin’s stories have been turned into films and are often screened this time of year. They have that spooky element as the trees and sky start to lose colour.
So it’s apt that Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre is opening its 50th anniversary season with Levin’s most notorious play, Deathtrap.
One of the longest-running, non-musical plays to appear on Broadway, this 1978 play-within-a-play takes a number of twisty turns, none of which Powerhouse director Jackson Mace, who also stars as lead character Sidney Bruhl, wants to divulge in the pages of this newspaper.
And who can blame him? The element of surprise is just what has made Levin’s thriller-comedy (yep, comedy, you read that right) the success that it is.
“There’s some sensitive parts of the show that should not be spoiled,” said Mace. “(The story) is like an onion. The more we dig through the script, the more we uncover. It’s a tribute to Levin that you see something new every time you read it… As we work through the script, as a cast we discover its nuances. It’s great writing.”
Although Deathtrap holds few plot similarities to the film Ghost, Mace references the 1990 film as the emotions it evokes are similar to that experienced while bringing Levin’s script to life. And the play also features a psychic, but instead of Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae, it’s a Dutch woman named Helga ten Dorp (played here by Sybolla Frange, who was last seen in Becky’s New Car at Powerhouse.)
“This doesn’t make you cry, but there are some chuckles and some scenes that could scare you… It’s also a different show than The Women In Black (which Powerhouse staged in 2012) in that it’s more commercial,” said Mace.
What Mace can tell you is the similarities that his character, Sidney Bruhl, has to Levin. Both are playwrights with great success. However, in Bruhl’s case it is with his hit mystery, The Murder Game.
However, after that play, Bruhl undergoes a long dry spell with only a few minor hits.
“His last four plays flop. That’s what he calls himself ‘Sidney Four-Flops Bruhl,’” said Mace.
After he receives a play in the mail from a young, promising student, Clifford Anderson (played by newcomer to the stage Robert Hillier, who is a graphic designer and has contributed his skills to the posters used on the set), Bruhl believes he has a hit on his hands. It’s then that he and his hyperventilating wife, Myra (played by Powerhouse newcomer Jennifer Goodsell, who has acted in theatre in England), have a dilemma about what to do about it.
“She gets anxious as events unfold and would like to have a collaboration. He has darker thoughts,” said Jackson, giving this one hint: “Somebody may die.”
Enter Helga, who believes she is one person who can figure this whole thing out before the play concludes, and Sidney’s lawyer, Porter Milgrim (played by Doug Fairweather, who last appeared as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Annie at Powerhouse), who tries to help Sidney uncover the “truth.”
Mace is particularly excited about the set, which shows the inside of a Colonial-style house, carefully designed by Okanagan Zone Drama award winner Eugene Leveque
“He has created a model for our set that even includes miniature posters of other murder mysteries that Powerhouse has done. The details are amazing,” said Mace, adding Powerhouse has previously produced plays, such as Dial M for Murder, that are eluded to in Deathtrap.
Powerhouse has also taken artistic license by changing the name of Bruhl’s typewriter, Zenobia, to Agatha, in a tribute to great mystery writer Agatha Christie.
“Levin mentions some of her plays in the script and also tributes Hitchcock,” said Mace.
Award-winning team Bob Oldfield and Jessika LaFramboise are on sound and light, respectively, along with technical producer Cara Nunn. Powerhouse president Sarah McLean is helping co-direct the play while Mace is on stage.
“The goal of the production is to have people leave the theatre thoroughly entertained,” said Mace. “We hope they will be buzzing.”
Deathtrap opens at Powerhouse Wednesday and runs at the new time of 7:30 p.m. to Nov. 9 and Nov. 12 to 16. Matinees are Nov. 10 and 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.