Deathtrap provides twists and shivers at Triad Stage

by Lenise Willis

Successfully scaring someone is a science and an art; it takes a precise manipulation of lighting, sound and suspense to create a feeling of uneasiness. Triad Stage capitalized on all three key components to artfully craft their scare tactic during its opening performance of Deathtrap.

The thriller, written by Ira Levin, centers on a celebrity playwright who has failed to write a hit for more than a decade and has been living off his aging fame and wife’s fortune for years. Greed and desperation lead him to plot the murder of a young, undiscovered playwright, who may have just written the next Broadway hit””one that no one even knows he’s been working on. But as the story unravels, not all is what it seems. The play is right up there with Dial “M” for Murder, in that I couldn’t stop biting my nails.

Each time I thought I had figured out the scheme, Levin threw me for another loop. And every time I thought I had settled into the play, Jon Fredette’s sound design knocked me off my seat. I jumped out of my skin at least a handful of times throughout the performance, not just because of the intense action on stage, but also because of Fredette’s thunderclaps and perfectly timed booms.

The light design by Robert Perry was superb, too, and played nicely with the sound and set design.

At the start of the play, the set, coupled by the sound of bird’s singing, is flooded with a warm, morning sun, complementing the warmth of the cabin and the strong smell of pine that filled the house. I felt comfortable and cozy. Perry set me up. That cozy feeling didn’t last for long once several murderous plans began to shape. The lamps flickered and browned out during a thunderous storm and at times went completely black or red to dramatize the action on stage.

Speaking of the set design, created by John Coyne, Triad Stage never fails to flesh out even the tiniest of details. The entire play takes place in a log-cabin home far off in the woods. The home, styled with early-70s bright orange rugs and a floating fireplace, looks elegant, but comfortable. It appropriately reflects the characters’ formerly lavish, but dwindling lifestyle. Barren trees sprinkled around the stage helped to close the gap between the audience and the set. It was beautiful and made getting lost in the play that much easier.

On the stone wall, above the mantle, hung an arsenal of antique weapons. The props themselves added to my uneasy feeling and to the suspense of the play.

As the characters passed, and sometimes touched, the menacing props, I got chills, never knowing when one was going to be used.

The talent, of course, kept the play in motion. Robert Emmet Lunney, who played the celebrity playwright Sidney Bruhl, conquered each layer of his complicated character. He drew me in with a familiar professor-like vibe, and then startled me with his alarming capabilities. Amy da Luz exhausted me, watching her stick to her continually nervous character, and thereby making me anxious too.

Bonnie Black, who played as Helga ten Dorp, the neighbor psychic, performed the comic relief in the play. Black understands the importance of good timing when it comes to comedy. She was patient with her lines, and added small details that extended laughs, like looking the young playwright up and down with, not just her eyes, but her flashlight, too.

Watching her was a relief, too, because I could simply sit back, laugh and take a break from being nervous.

Overall the play was a must-see. In today’s time it’s hard to scare an audience that’s used to the blood, guts, gore and special effects of film. But Triad Stage reminds us that live theatre has its own tactics, too. !


Triad Stage performs Deathtrap at its Pyrle Theatre, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro, this week through Nov. 8. Tickets are $10-$48 depending on day and seating. For tickets and more information call 272-0160 or visit