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September 07, 1979 - Image 121

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-09-07

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The Michigan Daily-Friday, September 7, 1979--Page 9-A

Deathtrap'

a sneaky hit

By JOSHUA PECK
Like the first bite of a tart autumn
ipple, Deathtrap refreshes the soul and
itillates the senses.
Playwright Ira Levin wasn't content
nerely to churn out another five-
haracter, one-set thriller. While
ollowing the guidelines laid down by
Deathtrap
Ira Levin
Fisher theater
September 4
Sidney Bruhl .............. Brian Bedlord
Myra ruh ......... ........ Betty Miller
Clifford Anderson ...........Kevin Conroy
Helga ten Dorp ...........Kathleen Freeman
Porter Milgrim ....................George Ede
Robert Moore, director; William Ritman,
scenery; Marc B. Weiss, lighting.
rthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie,
nd his other literary influences, Levin
dds a witty, modernistic touch.
eathtrap is largely about a play called
'Deathtrap." The play within goes
rough a few revisions, but much of its
iction matches that of the play without,
md references to the play within oc-
:asidnally contain clues to the in-
:riguing action to follow.
Levin has no compunctions about
)oking at the commercialism of his
forum : Referring to the play within, he
fredicts garish, profits to be reaped
,on grwing
o9ld and
growing
By R. J. SMITH

from its staging and the usual attendant
extras. Specifically, he sneers about the
"Deathtrap" t-shirts that will undoub-
tedly go on sale when the play becomes
a hit. (Indeed, the show's logo graces
undershirts on sale in the lobby.)
TO MATCH Levin's craftsmanship
with the pen, scenic designer William
Ritman and lighting wizard Marc Weiss
have come up with designs both fun-
ctional and extraordinary. The main
playing area is as spacious as it needs
to be, but contains enough nooks and
crannies to heighten the anxiety-
producing action by hiding certain
carefully selected motions. The lighting
at various times, perfectly simulates
bright, direct sunlight (it shines
through a skylight) and the softer light
of a full moon.
Lead actor Brian Bedford's ideas for
his portrayal of the devious playwright
Bruhl are, really, only so many more
coals to Newcastle, but these coals are
so compressed, tight and pointed that
they seem like diamonds.
When Betty Miller - as Bruhl's wife
- observes that her husband has been
writing mysteries so long that he is
inured to the horror of real life murder,
she misses the fascinating intrigue of
his character altogether. He is a man
utterly without moral compunction,
and it is only fear of being apprehended
for his crimes that represses his most
dastardly impulses. The moment Bruhl
feels sure he has devised an unsolvably
clever scheme, the horrible action
begins.
BEDFORD DOES not rely simply on
the strength of these actions to bring
out the remarkable extent of Bruhl's
beastliness. From the moment he in-
tones his first word (the name of the
play), we sense that he is a dangerous
Machiavellian. Maybe it is his un-
wavering physical manner or the icy

aloofness - bordering on disdain -
that dresses his words that brings out
his grim, insistent purpose, but
whatever sly techniques Bedford
utilizes to project his character's
heinous nature, they are frightfully ef-
fective throughout.
It clearly could not be helped that
Bedford's Bruhl stands alone in his un-
mitigated brilliance. While the other
four actors are all performers of con-
siderable gifts, each does have a
glaring lapse or two, at least, and in
some cases, sorry decisions about
character and motivation have been
reached by actor, director, or, most
likely, both.
WORST OF THE problems that
present themselves is the painfully
postured stereotype Kathleen Freeman
enacts as the Scandinavian psychic
Helga ten Dorp. JEvidently Freeman
has chosen her melodramatic style
because the script has so many con-
trivances, but playwright Levin's
strong point is that his twists of plot are
so facile and subtly hidden 'that they
don't seem to strain credibility.
Too much plot detail here might rob
pleasure from prospective playgoers,
but it would be unfair not to offer a
sample of Levin's acute wit: In the
play's second scene, Bedford begins a
discussion with his wife on whether he
should kill Conroy. The catch is that
Conroy is there in the room with them,
and the two must converse - in
wickedly sly metaphor - supposedly
about the play within, and other sundry
topics. The result is a sequence both
unbearably suspenseful and cruelly,
darkly funny.
If you must, put off seeing Deathtrap
until April when it will come to the
Power Center in Ann Arbor (without
Bedford). But one way or the other, see
this play. You will love it.

1

eve

taken

Now Playing at Butterfield Theatres

It is hard to say which statement
might be more true: A) David Johan-
son is desperately trying to evade the
fate that Johnny Thunders is suffering,
or B) Johnny Thunders is desperately
trying to evade Johnny Thunder's fate.
Both these guys have run a head-on
collision with the Peter Townshend
theory of old-age: namely, that the
older you get, the more. problems
ou're gonna have. (That is, if you do it
ght and don't kid yourself as the years
oil on. If not you might as well be in
,usinesvchool, or else Dire Straights).
So you think making a lot of noise and
making a public jerk of yourself enough 0
times when you are young is going to
truly help, huh? Fool! If you're lucky, it
will open your eyes just enough to let
you see how far you really have to go.
From the first time you heard the
New York Dolls first album (the Dolls
being the group these two were with in
the early sixties) and heard David slam
down his frustration and outrage on
"Personality Crisis," and heard John-
ny Thunders play the kind of guitar that
felt like a razor blade painlessly sliding
away the flesh on your face, it was clear
these guys were running into the
unknown with their eyes wide-open.
Here were some real-life Bowery
Boys as chummy as the originals, only
these fellas could hurt you... real
bad. But the thing was - as soon as we
knew about them, they were already
almost extinct. It wasn't that they were
dinosaurs. They just sunk away into a
slime of lawsuits and bad faith, going
down with some of the biggest damn
noise the seventies have coughed up.
ALTHOUGH THEY never com-
pletely faded out of things when the
Dolls broke up, it is only lately that
Johanson and Thunders have made any
splash on their own. And as much as
anything, Johanson's In Style and
Thunder's Heartbreakers Live at
Max's Kansas City sound like commen-
ts on the all-out subway guerilla war-
fare lifestyle that was the Dolls' bread
and butter.
There isn't anything articulate or ob-
scure about Thunder's comment, for
it's really just one howling "ouch!"
Thunders sounds like he never stepped
out of the tough life of the Dolls, not
even when what seemed like a promise
of forever-young West Side community
molted into a lifestyle of despair and
loneliness always slowly on the rise. His
state of mind is borne out in his song
titles, such as "I Want to Be Loved"
and "All By Myself."
When he played guitar with the Dolls,
Thunders sounded to be all the time
flaunting his anguish in everyone's
face. Now, as leader and singer for the
Heartbreakers, we see on Live at Max's
where years of anonymity and
See WINNING, Page 11

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