Deathtrap by Ira Levin holds the record for the longest-running “comedy-thriller” on Broadway. The comedy in the show is brilliant – matched only by the psychological tension in this superb thriller. Associate Dramaturg, Elizabeth Ferguson, tells us a little bit about the thriller genre.
What makes a good thriller? Is it the unexpected reversals? The high stakes? The conniving villain or the clever hero? The thrilleris a genre that relies on the superbly constructed balance of pacing and suspense designed to keep us on the edge of our seats. Often mistaken for mystery, which typically involves solving a crime that has already occurred, the thriller discovers the mystery as it unfolds, sometimes even two steps ahead. The tension is derived from dangerous possibilities which evoke anxious anticipation. In a psychological thriller, the focus is on the inner psyche of the characters who play intricate mind-games and weave complex manipulations. While the formula for a great thriller is elusive, and, in fact, varies quite a bit depending upon the content, we certainly know a good one when we see it.
Ira Levin is one of the acknowledged masters of the thriller, writing his award-winning first novel,A Kiss Before Dying, in 1953 at the age of only twenty-two. The book was quickly made into a filmstarring Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, and Virginia Leith. In his fifty-year career as a playwright and novelist Levin wrote several hits, many of which were later turned into films, including the chilling Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil, and The Stepford Wives. Levin’s biggest Broadway smash, Deathtrap, which won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Play in 1980, ran for four years and was made into a film in 1982, starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.
According to James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, “a thriller is a story of a hero who has a mission to foil evil. Not just a hero—a clever hero. Not just a mission—an ‘impossible’ mission. An ‘impossible’ mission that will put our hero in terrible trouble.” InDeathtrap, Levin gleefully toys with this notion—our clever hero is certainly in terrible trouble and has an impossible mission. But “evil” is in the eye of the beholder.
Deathtrap runs March 28- April 12. Buy tickets here.