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By Dana Casadei
They say a show can only be as good as its script and its actors. “Deathtrap,” written by the brilliant Ira Levin, was put in the right group of actors’ hands at Tipping Point Theatre.
The five-person play, coming in at around two hours, is nicely split into two acts, three scenes each, letting viewers get comfortable for a split second before another twist arrives. And there are quite a few surprises in the John Neville-Andrews directed show.
For starters, there’s the big question of will Sidney actually kill a younger playwright to gain financial success? Which then leads to so many more, such as whose death is Helga Ten Dorp predicting when she talks about the mystery man in boots? Who’s the woman that will use the dagger? Who’s really dead? Who can you trust? And that’s all before Act Two.
Sidney Bruhl, executed by the booming voice of Jim Porterfield, is a playwright that hasn’t written a hit in 18 years. He has received a script from Clifford Anderson (Rob Pantano), a young man that was at his summer seminar, that turns out to be a smash, making Sidney instantly green with envy. Sidney’s wife, Myrah (Wendy Hedstrom), proceeds to suggest that he invite the young playwright to their home, which leads to a very interesting conversation between the couple, making viewers, and Myrah, wonder if Sidney has it in him to kill Cliff and claim the play as his own. What follows is murder, revealed secrets, suspense and a lot of laughs.
The more I watched this show the more I thought this script could be in the hands of the five worst actors in the world and it would have still been good, which speaks volumes of Levin’s play. Thankfully these are far from the worst five actors in the world, making it all the better to sit through.
For starters, there’s Porterfield. His portrayal of Sidney is perfection, making us laugh with him one moment with his exceptionally dry sarcasm, and stun us into silence during a few of the more intense moments of the show. Porterfield also has the ability to say very little at times but still tell so much through his facial expressions and movements. His ability to move so quickly from emotion to emotion is something to watch in awe.
Then there’s Helga ten Dorp. Terry Heck is unbelievably hysterical to watch as the psychic. Everything about her performance is over-the-top, from her mannerisms to her clothes and accent, and I mean that as a compliment. With the wrong actor, Helga could have been taken as a side character that was annoying and not funny, but I loved every single minute Heck was out there.
Rob Murphy’s set and lighting design is noteworthy as well. This was one of the best sets I’ve seen in my time as a critic. Everything about it spoke volumes as to who Sidney and Myrah were, everything from the drink cart with the over-priced brandy down to Sidney’s typewriter and cord telephone. There were so many small details that other set designers may not have placed, such as the wide variety of weapons on the walls and the gorgeous chandeliers that hung above the room. Murphy’s lighting design had the ability to make it look like a storm was brewing outside and change the scene from night to day, at times making moments much more ominous.
The show may be taking place in 1978, but it isn’t one that will be considered dated any time soon. If you love a good whodunit, or a comedy, this one will leave you on the edge of your seat in-between moments of laughter, and really make you wonder what you would be willing to do for success.
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 Cady St., Northville. Thursday through Sunday through Oct. 7, plus Wednesday, Sept. 19. $29-32. 248-347-0003. http://www.tippingpointtheatre.com