By D. A. Blackburn
The set of Who Wants Cake? Theatre’s “Deathtrap” may startle you. Not just because it’s filled with guns, daggers, swords and implements of torture, but also because it’s one of the finest sets the company has ever constructed. And though it is sure to grab the eye, Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” will snare your attention, and hold you fiercely for two intense acts.
“Deathtrap” is a unique and engrossing mystery. It is, at once, a play about writing the perfect play, and also a suspense-packed, laugh-a-minute thriller in which no character is safe. Playwright Sidney Bruhl (Joe Bailey) is down on his luck. A string of failures has left him distraught and financially dependant on his wife (Melissa Beckwith). When young writer Clifford Anderson (Jamie Richards) sends him a promising script, Bruhl decides to hatch a murderous plan that will surely revive his failing career. That is, if the meddling psychic Helga ten Dorp (Jean Garringer) doesn’t ruin everything first. But of course, “Deathtrap” is a mystery, and nothing is quite what it seems.
There is no masking the fine performances that abound in “Deathtrap,” though. Bailey, Beckwith and Richards establish an exquisite tension early on, developing suspicion in the audience’s minds, but still allowing Levin’s pointed humor and terrific dialogue to resonate. As Helga, Garringer injects a strong dose of vivid color with a humorous Dutch accent and perfectly garbled English. Thomas James rounds out the cast as attorney Porter Milgrim, making a small role both memorable and funny.
Levin, whose other notable writings include “The Stepford Wives” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” makes it abundantly clear throughout the play that he knew a thing or two about mystery writing, educating audiences about the basic conventions of the mystery story, while packing the work full of suspense. Sidney Bruhl would likely be jealous, because Levin’s “Deathtrap” is a near-perfect thriller, and WWC? has crafted a worthy production.
Who Wants Cake? Theatre, The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Fri.-Mon., through Feb. 2. Tickets: $10-$20. For information: 248-545-5545 or http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com