CEDAR CITY — Though originally named after him, the Simon Fest doesn’t just mount Neil Simon shows, as the two I saw this past weekend were written by other authors. I enjoyed Deathtrap, written by Ira Levin. Because of an error in the program that stated there were music and lyrics in the show, I expected a musical. However, Deathtrap was as long as a musical: a full two and a half hours! However, the time flew by as there was always a fresh supply of surprises to startle me regularly.
Deathtrap delivers exactly what its title promises, no more and no less. In fact, this title is so descriptive of the play I will not say another word lest I give away the plot. The most I can say is that it is a good show to play around Halloween time, similar to Wait Until Dark, or Dial M for Murder.
Director Clarence Gilyard was fantastic at blocking the characters in the space. I felt engaged in the story as they moved from areas of the room, the comfortable couch sitting area with relaxing drinking, the fireplace in upstage center, which was right next to the ominous wall of murder weapons and the posters showing the various murder mystery plays written by the main character, Sydney Bruhl (played by Dean Jones). The mini-bar for making drinks, that Sydney’s wife, Myra (played by Alyson Wheeler) would retreat to in order to get her bearings, and serve guests was another center of action and attention.
Set designer Brad Shelton had made the feeling of a 1970’s cabin in the woods a reality. He was able to use many similar set pieces from his Daddy Long Legs set (like book shelves) and rearrange them to fit this space. The back door with its bright yellow patterned curtains, screaming 1970’s design. And the large writing desk, that later turned in to a double desk later on sat heavy, intense, and foreboding in the downstage right. I loved how Shelton made the firelight flickering a bright red-orange, and the murder weapons so prominent against a velvet-blue wall backing. I also appreciated the green reading lamp on the desk that reminded me of an old lamp I had growing up, bent over and elongated to fit a hot-dog shaped bulb.
The actors were superb in Deathtrap, though sometimes the pacing was slow. I was most impressed with Taylor Hall, who played Clifford Anderson. He was quiet and meek when necessary and then emerged with some outrageous volume and anger when the time called for it, which was one of several startling developments in this show. I enjoyed Jones’s strong cockney accent, though was confused why he had one because the play never explained his background. Still, the accent was sure fun to listen to. Jones also played well along with Wheeler as his wife, and they made a convincing couple onstage.
Helga ten Dorp (played by Chrystine Hyatt) was a very fun character, and Hyatt was so eccentric. It is hard to play Helga in a way that the audience can genuinely laugh at the humor she brings, but Hyatt was able to pull off the most important lines, which were timed well. However, Hyatt’s accent sounded Japanese, when the character is supposed to be European (Dutch or Russian), and I was so confused about the character until I later looked up information about her.
The wardrobes were lovely, designed by Tonya Christensen. Jones’s white turtleneck sweater made him look like a well-to-do retired master of art, and Wheeler’s first dress with the pink poodle skirt and her second green wrap-around dress showed off how well Myra thought of her appearance and her standards of entertaining company. I was disappointed that Hall was supposed to be wearing boots, but they looked more like hiking shoes without any heel. Hyatt had some lovely costumes with long bright shawls and tons of bracelets. She looked very much like a witch of some kind, which fit her character nicely.
The largest disappointment of Deathtrap, though, was the unimpressive ending. The play lacked the build and climax that would make the final line and blackout satisfying. Because the ending was so rushed, I did not think the show was over at first, and I did not get to laugh at the absurd ending. (I even had to watch another cast on YouTuve do the ending so I could follow understand it better.)
Deathtrap was a fun show to see, especially with a friend, because then we could discuss its many details and surprises later. If the ending could be tweaked a bit, the Simon Fest production would be so much better.