SPRINGFIELD —Does the name Ira Levin ring a bell?
It will if you’re old enough to remember “Rosemary’s Baby.” Levin wrote the novel and the screenplay, plus a slew of other blockbusters, including “The Stepford Wives.” His play “Deathtrap” opened on Broadway in 1978 and stayed open for four years to become the longest-running comedy-thriller to this day.
A well-polished local production of “Deathtrap” by The Not Ready for Retirement Players opened last Friday at the Wildish Theater and runs through Aug. 13. The large opening night audience had a rousing good time laughing and gasping at the cleverly devised plot.
Under the skillful direction of Chris Pinto, this witty play within a play provides a string of surprises and unexpected twists. Sidney Bruhl, an aging playwright who hasn’t had a hit in ages, is desperate to turn his life around. In an excellent portrayal by Dan Pegoda, he is shaggy, morose, and reduced to teaching playwriting seminars.
Top left, Dan Pegoda as “Sidney” and Storm Kennedy as “Myra.” At top right, Paul Rhoden plays “Porter” in “Deathtrap.” PHOTOS PROVIDED
The always dependable Storm Kennedy is gripping as Myra, Sidney’s elegant, generally supportive wife. David Arnold portrays Clifford, one of Sidney’s students, as a confident, engaging tyro playwright. As Helga Ten Dorp, a Dutch psychic with a vulnerable streak, Jen Ferro is hilarious, holding her head as if it might break apart whenever she has a vision. Her specialty, wouldn’t you know, is solving murders.
Paul Rhoden as Sidney’s lawyer, Porter, seems to be grounded and caring, but, like all the other characters, he surprises us with his deeper revelations.
I’m sorry to inform you that I really must not summarize the plot. I know, it sounds like I’m not doing my job, but if I were to divulge almost any information at all, the whole performance would be spoiled for viewers in advance.
What I can describe for you is the impressive set designed by Michael Walker. The set will give you some infallible clues. All of the action takes place in a large room, Sidney’s elegant study where he writes his plays. We see a fireplace, French doors leading to a garden, and part of a flight of stairs. Covering the walls are daggers, swords, vintage pistols and even a crossbow.
Are you beginning to get the picture?
Jen Ferro as “Helga Ten Drop,” left, and David Arnold as “Clifford.” PHOTOS PROVIDED
In addition to all those tools for mayhem, it’s fun to see the technology of 1978. Both playwrights use manual typewriters. Sidney’s choice is a new electric model while Clifford prefers an ancient Smith Corona, which will keep working during a power outage.
A parting note: The highly experienced Not Ready for Retirement Players was founded by Pinto in 2016 with the intention of providing work for talented mature actors by presenting outstanding small-cast plays featuring older characters. “Deathtrap” is the company’s eighth production and the last one while Pinto is still living in Eugene. Soon he will relocate to Maui, but with luck the company will continue to perform in Lane County. They would undoubtedly find a comfortable theatrical home at the Wildish, and an eager audience to enjoy their productions.
“Deathtrap” is playing at The Wildish Theater through Aug. 13; times and tickets through wildishtheater.com or 541-868-0689.
Dorothy Velasco is a local playwright. She wrote this review for The Chronicle.