Reviewed by Sue Langenberg
In its 89th season, Winneshiek Playhouse presents production “Deathtrap,” a lively experience to behold for the nation’s oldest continuous volunteer amateur theater.
Written by Ira Levin, the play opened in ’78 and holds the record for longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway at some 1800 performances as well as a Tony Award for Best Play. With a cast of merely five and one single set throughout, the play seems destined for the likes of any amateur volunteer organization.
This is not just any production, however, with cast and crew of some of the finest professionals that Freeport has to offer, a feather in WP’s cap. With murders, love miscommunications and laughter galore, the two acts have rather touchy rhythms to accomplish in a short period of action time.
Director Tom Myers is at the helm of all the actions or, as he notes, “machinations” of the plot twists and turns. Myers is no stranger to bringing a script to life having had decades of experience on stage and off. Now retired from Highland Community College as Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, he can devote his energy and talents his way. And, as his work in “Deathtrap” proves, he gets his way whether by gentle persuasion or a spirited “Cut!” It all works for best results.
As lead character Sydney Bruhl, Doug Munda is also no stranger to the role. He played the part of the aging playwright 30 years ago, though he and Myers agree that he was a bit young for it at that time. Many years, many plays and many scripts later, Munda has fully matured into the role as if it were created for him. His velvet voice commands the ups and downs of moods with a precise pulse that experiences the story, rather than acts out the story. He is also an embodiment of stage presence that can be silent and yet exude energy. All of this unfolds, of course, within a heavily scripted responsibility.
Alongside Munda is Adam Moderow as the young upstart playwright Clifford Anderson. He bridges many gaps as the questions appear and disappear in every scene. Is he friend or foe? Lover or killer? Innocent or guilty? Well cast and up to the tasks at hand, Moderow manages well his many faces of evil.
Lynn Jones plays the hysterical and mystic character Helga ten Dorp whose many “visions” of pain and death surround her entrances and exits with much laughter. While her role is an integral part of the story, Jones could be her own side show with gestures of eccentricity mixed with her convincing accent.
As Bruhl’s suspicious “frowning wife” Myra, Dawn Degenhardt delivers appropriate glares and screams galore as she maneuvers her way through the air thick with possibilities of murder in the midst. While she seemingly represents the innocence in this cast of characters, Degenhardt also pulls focus into her cunning understanding of how frightening the events that surround her.
Shawn Killingbeck as Porter Milgrim, also a frequent WP presence, enters as a sober and serious lawyer and, as always, seems to predict laughter before he says his first line. Like all characters in this play he quickly turns shifty-eyed and suspicious of foul play. When greediness takes his personality by storm…well, that is yet another twist.
Most masterful and deservedly a character itself is the set design that captures the moods and textures of this thriller. Designer Jeff Stultz graced the stage with a rustic and multi-layered design fit for any boonies cabin. His work is a feast for the eyes that portrays a comfortable experience yet, like the plot, has disturbing details of weaponry. In conjunction with lighting by Ash Ahrens, the characters seem to become more real as they deliver dialogue. Costumes by Lucy Roloff were also believable with a special note of Helga’s wild colors.
Expect the unexpected in “Deathtrap,” that opens tonight at Winneshiek Playhouse, 228 W Clark St., tomorrow March 7 and next week March 12, 13, and 14, 7:30 p.m. performances. Tickets go fast at (815) 232-7023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.