Pec Playhouse presents Deathtrap, a convoluted mystery

Pec Playhouse presents Deathtrap, a convoluted mystery

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

Pec Playhouse’s final play of the 2001 season played to a packed house on Saturday. Deathtrap, originally staged in 1978 and later made into a film, combines intrigue, moments of humor and a convoluted plot in which a play within a play develops with unexpected results. Jesse Dabson directs. His experience in the entertainment industry and as a private acting coach gives him an excellent background for his first venture as a director. Appreciative of the opportunity, he has high praise for everyone involved in the production.

Mark Kann plays Sidney Bruhl, a writer of mysteries, whose ability to produce a meaningful play has completely disappeared. Dependence on his wife Myra (Kathern L. Smull) frustrates him, and a play from a former student offers the chance to regain recognition. A devious plan emerges, inspired by the collection of weapons that decorated the walls of his study. Myra cannot believe he is serious, but when Clifford Anderson (Keith Emroll) arrives, play in hand, she understands the inevitability of the deathtrap.

The dialogue between Sidney and Myra in the early scenes, a prologue to later developments, moves slowly. Will the scheme ever reach fruition? When the action finally starts, we react like children in a house of horrors. Deathtrap includes scenes that recall Glenn Close rising from the bathtub in Fatal Attraction. Kann and Emroll handle their parts well and are much more believable in Act II, when their relationship and manipulative behavior offer a better opportunity for dramatic boldness. Smull, a newcomer, lacks confidence, and although Myra represents the quiet female, she plays the part with uncertainty. Experience in theater hones one’s craft, and performing strengthens the actor. I look forward to seeing Smull’s growth.

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From page 19

Mary Ann Newton plays Helga Ten Dorp, a psychic predicting precisely every step of the plot. Her entrance energizes the play, which to that point seemed to move in slow motion. Her comedic talent comes across beautifully. Flamboyant costumes, outrageous accent and sheer physical energy colorfully light a dark scheme of murder for money. Jack Newton’s brief appearance as Porter Pilgrim, Bruhl’s attorney, lent an aspect of respectability—all business until the very last.

The renovation of the theater includes updated technical equipment. Steve Knaack uses it well in the lighting and sound design for the show, enhancing the plot and creating mysterious effects that make the unexpected more terrifying. Brett Hulsebus operates the light board with professional expertise. Michael Dice’s set, the writer’s study in suburban Connecticut, incorporates authentic details.

Pec Playhouse entered an agreement with the Pecatonica Heritage Museum in 1998 to become a part of their complex. The result was an expanded program with a full season of plays. This past summer, a storefront formerly occupied by the Grafton Gallery became available, and the space was expanded to provide for a spacious lobby, dressing rooms and a display area for the Heritage Museum and Historical Society. The brightly lighted lobby showcases a collection of artifacts, pictures and uniforms dating back to World War I, a most appropriate display for Veterans Day. Pec Playhouse received recognition from the IRS in 1999 as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, and all contributions are fully tax deductible.

The community support for Pec Playhouse is evident in the loyal audiences it attracts. Its continued growth is assured. Deathtrap plays through November 11. Upcoming events include Pec Christmas Walk on Saturday, December 1, with showings of the film Miracle on 34th Street at 1 and 7 p.m. in the theater. For tickets and more details, call 395-9586.

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