Greed, strangulation, and male nudity — just another day in bucolic Connecticut in Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” now receiving a frisky revival at the Davidson-Valentini Theatre in the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.
It’s 1978, and Sidney Bruhl (Brian Foyster), a thriller writer whose last Broadway hit ran during the Kennedy administration, has just received the first draft of a play by one of his workshop students, Clifford (Burt Grinstead). His acolyte’s manuscript is so promising, Sidney notes, “a gifted director couldn’t even hurt it.” (It’s the throwaway show biz trash talk that gives this play its charm.)
As Sidney muses on how convenient it would be to murder strapping young Clifford and steal his work, his fragile wife, Myra (Cynthia Gravinese), reminds him that psychic Helga Ten Dorp (Elizabeth Herron) has rented the cottage next door and may sense negative vibrations. Thus is launched a fiendish plot and, by Act II, a medieval crossbow’s bolt.
The challenge of “Deathtrap” is to make its mechanical turns seem organic; Sidney himself would respect the intricate stage business required to pull off this thriller’s big shocks. Director Ken Sawyer delivers the boos with relish, though he has less command over the tone of performances — each cast member seems to be in a different play. This dissonance erodes our suspension of disbelief, particularly with Heron’s hammy turn as Helga.