When you take lies, deception, betrayal and murder, it sounds like a mediocre, run-of-the-mill horror flick. However, when you throw in some offbeat humor, enough plot twists to choke a horse and a nosy next-door clairvoyant, that changes things. These are all the name of the game in Ira Levin's two-act play "Deathtrap," put on by the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at the College of DuPage Arts Center.
In the play, Sidney Bruhl (played by Matt Diehl) is a former Broadway playwright whose recent shows have hardly been blockbusters. The middle-aged dramatist feels that he has faded into obscurity and become a has-been. Disheartened, dismal and approaching bankruptcy, the already-crestfallen author is further put out when a former student of his, Clifford Anderson (William Smillie), sends him a copy of a play he has written. The play, titled "Deathtrap," is first-rate, and more than likely to become an epic success on Broadway. Recognizing this, Sidney has a most malicious thought: What if he were to lure Clifford to his home, kill him, and claim the script as his own. He relates the idea to his naïve wife Myra (Laurie Larson), who is shocked that her husband could even think of such a thing.
Myra is done away with soon after the arrival of Clifford, whom Sidney supposedly murders and buries. When Cliff returns "from the dead" to exact his revenge on Sidney, Myra has a heart attack and is soon lifeless. We learn that Clifford and Sidney are actually scheming together, but the two constantly attempt to deceive one another. Cliff begins to rewrite "Deathtrap," rewriting it as a thinly disguised clone of what really did occur – the plot to kill Myra – and the setting of the play resembles Sidney's home a little too closely. When Bruhl finds the manuscript, he worries that someone will realize the similarity between the play and the real thing. For both men, it becomes a deadly cat-and-mouse game as the two begin to come to grips with the fact that the other is scheming to do him in.
The roles of the play have been cast well: From the spiteful and conniving Sidney to the sly opportunist Clifford, the players seem well-suited to their roles and interact with one another quite well. Matt Diehl, who takes on the role of the middle-aged playwright, is careful not to overplay his character, yet he still manages to come off as the callous and self-centered man the role calls for. William Smillie, as the young but shrewd Cliff, seems to know that his character's strength is in his passive appearance – which, of course, masks his much darker nature. Sidney’s naïve wife Myra, played by actress Laurie Larson, is done away with before her character really develops much. Myra seems to be more around to "set the stage" for what will happen, but she continues to make her presence known! As for the secondary characters of Helga ten Dorp and Porter Milgrim – Katrina Kelley and Christopher Garrett, respectively – well, they seem somewhat for comic relief and somewhat just to keep us on our toes. Helga is amusing, but her accent seems to fade in and out. As for Porter, the family's attorney, he suspects something is up but isn’t sure just what. Garrett has a relatively small role in this part, but his rather nondescript quality fits nicely.
Another strong point of "Deathtrap" is the scenery and props, which are quite appropriate and fitting for the play's requirements. By looking at the walls of the little Connecticut home, we can see some posters of some of Sidney's previous plays – which are worked into the play itself rather nicely – and around the house there are some props from the aforementioned plays. Of particular interest is an item that is easy to overlook: a Rubik's Cube, the deviously challenging little game that keeps everyone baffled. Ira Levin had actually based some aspects of Sidney Bruhl’s character on himself: They were both playwrights of the thriller and mystery genres, and they both weave complex, intricate stories. Levin and Bruhl also both love brainteasers that keep the audience guessing.
While the plot is jammed with wild twists and frantic plot-turns, some of the subplots are ineffective and seem out-of-place. In one scene we see Sidney and Clifford kiss, which seems to suggest homosexuality. This does not really fit anywhere into the play and does little to advance the story. It could be some of the play's strange humor, or it could be to simply add to the "shock value" of the whole thing. Frankly, though, we can dismiss these minor distractions, because the play's successes far outweigh the negatives. We’re kept guessing until the very end; it's safe to say that very few will accurately predict how the story will turn out. All of these factors, supplemented by an ominously-carefree soundtrack, lead up to a nearly flawless production of enormous impact. The final "cymbal crash" at the end gives enough resolution of conflict to satisfy our curiosity yet manages to still keep us intrigued. The music ends abruptly, the lights fall, and “Deathtrap” has come to a close.