What would you do for success?
One of the greatest mystery thrillers in our American canon, Deathtrap is superbly constructed, with impeccable, smart, cunning dialogue and an exhilarating action plot. It holds the record for Broadway’s longest running comedy-thriller. But its meditation on the dark Machiavellian underbelly of the theater makes it a personal thrill for me to direct.
A taste of commercial and critical success in the theater is a like a drug – euphoric, short-lived and always leaving you hungry for more. Every theater artist knows the thrill of success, and every theater artist knows the abysmal public humiliation of failure or “the flop.” Just because you write or direct one hit doesn’t mean that it will ever ever happen ever again. And when critics at national publications deride your talent and nonchalantly discount your work (which takes usually three to five years to create), it can lead to sniveling despair, a tattered self-worth and ruthless Machiavellian ambition.
Ira Levin pokes fun at this all too real anxiety that theater artists feel with every artistic endeavor. Does the show even work? Will they like it? Will critics pee on it? Will it lead to more opportunity? Or will this be my last show, my last paycheck ever? And in this devilishly clever play, Levin makes you laugh pitilessly at this despair.
So go ahead – guffaw at how low we grovel to have another hit play! Marvel at how smart, talented adults resort to childish, impudent impossible behaviors! Laugh at our expense!
~ May Adrales, director
Fasten Your Seatbelts: It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Night
What makes a good thriller? Is it the unexpected reversals? The high stakes? The conniving villain or the clever hero? The thriller is 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 film starring 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.
~ Elizabeth Ferguson, Associate Dramaturg
This production is sponsored by:
Marriner S. Eccles Foundation
Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation