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a Comedy/Thriller
by Ira Levin

COMPANY : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. (Decatur) [WEBSITE]
ID# 2279

SHOWING : May 18, 2007 - June 09, 2007



Writer's block can be murder on an author, but for former theatre sensation Sidney life begins to imitate art. When Clifford Anderson sends his mentor a copy of his first attempt at playwriting for Sidney's review and advice, Sidney's slump seems to all but disappear. Clifford's play, "Deathtrap," is a thriller so perfect in its construction that, as Sidney says, "A gifted director couldn't even hurt it." Out of his desperate desire to once again be the toast of Broadway, Sidney and his wife cook up an almost unthinkable scheme: They'll lure the would-be playwright to their home, kill him, and market the sure-fire script as Sidney's own. But like any tasty plot things are never as they seem and twists and turns are around every corner. A hilarious thrill ride that keeps you guessing to the very end.

Director Greg Poulos
Lighting Design Michael Magursky
Set Construction Christopher M. McKenzie
Scenic Designer Christopher M. McKenzie
Clifford Anderson R.J. Allen
Myra Bruhl Amanda Renee Baker
Porter Milgrim Leo Finocchio
Sidney Bruhl Charles Green
Helga Ten Dorp Cathe Hall Payne
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Getting Set In Their Ways?
by line!
Monday, May 21, 2007
I received an invitation last week to attend a reception being given on Thursday night (May 17, 2007) to meet the new management team at Onstage Atlanta and, following the reception, to watch a preview performance of their next show: “Deathtrap”. I was excited to be able to go and show support for the new management team of Brian Porter, Kyle Barnett and Greg Poulos. They have actually been in place for several months, but this was their “coming out” (no pun intended) party. I felt that their efforts to turn OnStage around, improve its offerings and to simply keep it alive financially were commendable and seemed to be starting to have some effect.

At the reception prior to the performance, we attendees were told that the new management team was actually no longer the new management team! There were statements made to assure us that the theater would indeed carry on and that some changes were in progress. No information was given as to why the management change had occurred and there was much hushed speculation and outright gossip as to the details of what was going on. No answers were forthcoming and we were left to enjoy the lovely appetizers and beverages provided for the reception (which was beginning to have its own “murder mystery” aura).

I was left with a somewhat unsettled feeling as I entered the theater to watch the preview performance of “Deathtrap”.

I have performed at OnStage and have formed friendships with many of the folks associated with that theater, and with some of the folks associated with this show in particular. I will always do whatever I can to support them and wish them all the success in the world! That being said, here’s how I felt about what I saw…

Seeing a show on a preview night is not the same as seeing it during a run, so because of that, I will not give this show a numeric rating. I don’t think it is fair to do so under the circumstances.

“Deathtrap” is a very clever, witty, well written play. It is a piece of murder mystery theatre wrapped up in a piece of murder mystery theatre. The premise is intriguing and the promise of the premise is enticing! Once the audience is hit with the first plot twist, they become excited at the prospect of how the story will develop and progress. Hey this one looks like it is going to be fun!

However, the production I saw had a large handicap to overcome: it’s set design!

This was the first time I have ever seen a show where I perceived the set design and implementation as a major obstacle to the performance. Although I can also fault the direction in some cases, the bulk of my issues kept coming back to the set as the problem. It wasn’t where I expected to have dissonance, and to be honest, it really warped my mind.

Mind you the set looks good and it is beautifully detailed and dressed. It is expansive and interesting to look at. Unfortunately when you add actors and plot points, it very simply gets in the way of virtually everything.

Blocking and movement was frequently unnatural and uncomfortable or didn’t compliment or support the dialogue (example: after walking past a comfortable sofa and armchair, a guest is offered a seat on the lone hard wooden chair next to the bar – say what?!). The staircase is unfortunately ugly, poorly designed, and so badly placed and implemented that the actors must visibly crouch down as they ascend it (lest they hit their heads on the theater’s ceiling). Kind of like the mime going downstairs, only while actually going upstairs! Its a very odd thing to watch I must say.

The stage left wall (in the den) where the collection of theatrical posters and weapons reside should have been swapped with the upstage wall (where the double window is)in my opinion. That window is never used at all for anything other than decoration while the actors make frequent references to, and use of, the items on the stage left wall which the audience can not see (because the wall is at a right angle to the audience). We have to take it on faith that the items the characters are referring to actually exist on that wall. This weakens what should be a strong supporting environmental element to the story. Instead of the audience seeing the wall and thinking “what a cool, but odd collection of stuff”, they think “I wonder why the characters are making such a big deal about the stuff on that wall that I can't see?”.

The layout and size of the den also causes the actors to perform frequent squeezes and acrobatics simply to get around the furniture.

And did I mention the huge open area downstage left? I originally thought the area was being kept clear because something major was going to happen there during the show. But nothing ever did.

And I’m still not sure the “dissected” wall between the foyer and the den couldn’t have been handled differently (and better). When the rest of the set is presented in a complete and realistic manor, to have a wall presented artfully dissected like it would be in a home “how to” manual, was incongruous and out of style with the rest of the set.

And did I mention that the set was HUGE! Many of the scenes are intimate, tension filled, up close moments that are forced to be played across wide expanses of stage. There seems to be a desire to use every inch of the stage (nay! potentially the entire building), no matter whether it is effective or necessary.

Oh, yeah, in addition to the set, this show also included some talented (but environmentally challenged) actors.

In my opinion, R.J Allen, as Clifford Anderson, was the most effective at creating a believable character in the show. His choices were consistent with his character and supported the dialogue well. The only critique I would offer is that when he speaks he tends to loose the ends of his sentences (and we, the audience, tend to miss what he was saying).

Myra Bruhl, was also ably played by Amanda Renee Baker. Although occasionally clinging to the furniture and unintentionally clumsy at times (did her shoes not fit well?), her vocal, facial and physical choices were well suited to her character. She was quite effective at creating a very believable character (spoiler alert) in her relatively short time onstage.

Leo Finocchio, as lawyer Porter Milgrim, was also character appropriate, effective, and believable. According to the program this is his first time on stage after a long absence. I look forward to seeing him in future roles that might provide him a stronger challenge.

Charles Green, as writer Sidney Bruhl, carried the show. He is a strong actor with a good stage presence, and is very entertaining to watch. However some of his choices didn’t work for me in enhancing the believability of his character. There was also a kind of “Charles Nelson Reilly” quality to the character that I found to be a little bit out of place. (if you don’t know who Charles Nelson Reilly is – don’t worry about it – its not that big a deal) In one example at the beginning of the play, his physical mannerisms and vocal inflections do not support his intended assumed heterosexuality. If his body language screams "Queen", no matter how many times he kisses an hugs his wife, we ain't gonna buy it. Thus when (spoiler alert) it turns out he was “fronting”, the shock and surprise just isn’t there.

Cathe Hall Payne, as psychic Helga Ten Dorp, provides the comic relief in addition to delivering some key plot points and the (spoiler alert) final plot twist of the show. She is a capable comic actress with a good sense of timing and delivery; however she can’t do a Dutch accent (consistently) to save her life! (Very reminiscent of my own attempts at a French accent as Victor Velasco in “Barefoot in the Park” a few years ago) If it were up to me, I would change her character’s name and her accent to something Cathy can handle with confidence (or drop the accent altogether) and then let ‘er rip! I’d be willing to bet she would steal the show! It’s not important that the character is from Holland, it’s only important that she is funny, eccentric, and can be understood.

Overall this is a fun show to watch. "Deathtrap" is an enjoyable evening at the theatre, (if you are not as picky and obsessive about the set as I was). The preview performance was somewhat slow in its pacing, causing the show to run long, but I’m sure that it will tighten up after the show opens. I am well aware of how tired everyone is by the end of “tech week” and when you add the extra pressure of major changes at the theater, it is quite understandable that the energy and pacing may flag a little for preview night.

Go see “Deathtrap” and show your support for OnStage Atlanta. They need your support now more than ever. If we are not supportive, I fear another of our community theaters may be heading “into the mist” before we know it.

(originally posted 5/19/07 with some minor edits & corrections done 5/21/07)
Review a preview performance by green2u
Seems rather unfair to review a preview performance. Even professional critics don't do that.
Is "NR" and "Go see 'Deathtrap'" unfair? by mom2actor
Perhaps I'm just cranky, but I fail to see how giving a show a rating of "NR," stating that it is a fun show to watch, and urging others to "Go see 'Deathtrap'" qualifies as unfair. Am I missing something here? It seems to me Rial has done a good thing by pointing out some things the cast could work on, and telling us all to support the theater. Why is this problematic or "unfair?" Amy
I liked his review by Okely Dokely
Would you rather he had not taken the time to say anything at all? I like that he cared enough to take what was probably a long time to write what he wrote.

As for the preview thing: at least he didn't rate it.
For the sake of argument... by line!
Why would it be unfair to comment on a preview performance if, as was the case for this show, opening night was the next night?
by thespisATL
Since when do critics avoid preview performances? Maybe down here, but usually in NY shows have a couple weeks of preview performances in order to provide critiques before the show actually opens.
however... by super_tech
If I remember correctly, newspapers are not allowed to print reviews until the morning after opening...Anyone know otherwise?
if this was a newspaper by feather
id nver be published!
Superior Cast! Awesome Production
by SuperFly2
Sunday, May 20, 2007
I'm really not the most experienced "theater-go'er" but I thought this was a superior performance with a GREAT cast.

R.J. Allen, as Clifford Anderson, a great young actor and really "gets into" the part.

Amanda Baker, as Myra Bruhl, is quite elligant and very delightful (and striking) on stage.

Charles Green, as Sidney Bruhl, superior actor, you can tell he is experienced and that the other actors enjoy acting with him.

Cathe Hall Payne, also, a great actress and knows how to pull the audence into the play - she does have trouble with the Dutch accent (but that's the Director's fault).

Speaking of the director, (and this will be the only negative thing I have to say about this production) I could tell that the director suffers from a bad case of ADHD. I think that if he would have paid attention to some of the minor details that this production would have gotten more recognition and support from the Atlanta comunity. It's just too bad that this phenominal cast suffered from poor direction.

Don't get me wrong ... the cast really pulls this show off and it is FULL of supprises! I greatly enjoyed this show!!! Please go and support OnStage Atlanta!!!

I take the blame by justme
I have never commented on one of these things before so I am sorry if I shouldn't say what I am about to say. The accent WAS/IS my fault. I am the actress. I should have gotten tapes. My fault :( I will know better next time.
Now I'm going to say something that's really gonna get me in trouble... by line!
Cathe, I must respectfully disagree with you on this one. I'm sorry, but I would put the ultimate responsibility on the director. As an actor, you are doing the best you can to deliver what you see in the script. IMHO it is up to the director to accept or reject your efforts. We have all come to rehearsals with a notion in our head of how we seee the character or the scene, only to find that the director's vision is something completely different. The director should guide your performance and efforts so that it fits into his/her vision of the show and so that it blends with the other actors' performances. If the director likes what the actor does, he/she keeps it in the show. If the director doesn't like it, he/she should find a way to steer the actor toward something more appropriate to his/her vision of the show. Anybody else have any other thoughts on the subject?
... just an idea ... by SuperFly2
Cathy - YOU ARE AN AWESOME ACTRESS!!! I think you may have taken what I said wrong. I know this may sound a little cheezy but what about a southern accent? You probably won't get much help from the director (since he has ADD) but it you think about it a southern version of your character might be a riot. You could say that she is from L.A. (lower Alabama)? ~SuperFLY
Oh my Gosh! by justme
That's what I was thinking too. About the southern accent. LOVE IT!
Oh well. By the way, I WAS worried about poor Helgas accent and DID ask and I was told everything was fine. I worried and worried. Oh well poor Ole Helga she is given it a go :(
just for future reference... by mooniemcmoonster
if anyone ever needs an extra resource when it comes to having to do a certain accent, is the place to go. he's amazing and he even has cds you can rent for a particular character in a particular show. i've used his services a few times and i highly recommend him. its well worth the money.
Thank you so much! by justme
Can I just say how helpful that is.
Actors helping actors. Who knew. Thank you again.


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