Sitcom writers have a few fallbacks when ideas run short. Along with holiday episodes or romantic tension story arcs, it is all-too common to see a self-referential storyline, with one or more members of an ensemble cast auditioning for, being in, or directing a play. But the most meta production of all might be Ira Levin's Deathtrap, a play about a nonexistent play that is actually a ruse for a murder, which becomes the outline of another play, which begets two more murders that become the plot of another play. Though not as confusing as it sounds, Deathtrap is complex, and it requires finesse, spot-on timing--to elicit both laughs and screams from the audience--and committed, authentic performances. Idaho Shakespeare Festival's staging of the comedy thriller, directed by ISF Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee, brilliantly hit all of those points right on the head.
From the moment the incomparable Tom Ford (BW, Citizen, "Tom Ford," May 28, 2014), playing washed-up playwright Sidney Bruhl, steps on the stage, nothing is as it seems. Though short, graying and dressed in the same unadventurous colors as the heavy wood and leather furniture in his Connecticut converted-barn study, Sidney is as dangerous as the hundreds of knives, swords, spears, guns and other weapons hung on the walls as decoration. Even standing next to handsome, clever young playwright Clifford Anderson (beautifully portrayed by Nick Steen), Sidney commands the focus with Ford embodying the unscrupulous character who is willing to do anything to get back on top of his game (and hide a growing list of secrets) in such a way that in spite of his self-serving actions, he is charming, engaging and even sympathetic--not unlike the murderous title character of the TV show Dexter.
Tracee Patterson's portrayal of Myra Bruhl, Sidney's naive wife, was initially stilted but as the plot unfolds, a line of dialogue hints that it may have been intentional, and there's an "ah ha" moment for anyone paying close attention. Lynn Robert Berg delivers Sidney's lawyer Porter Milgrim in perfect buttoned-up barrister fashion, and with fire-engine-red hair, bright-hued accessories and an Eastern Bloc accent, Lynn Allison as psychic neighbor Helga Ten Dorp provides much of Deathtrap's physical and conversational color, delivering both levity and anticipatory tension, rounding out a superb ensemble cast who, with Fee navigating, effortlessly guide the audience through the labyrinth of a play within a play within a play.