Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival opens with chills and thrills

The company's 38th season launches with a production of the comedic 'Deathtrap.'

doland@idahostatesman.comJune 2, 2014 

Lynn Allison as Helga Ten Dorp in "Deathtrap" at Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Psychic Helga Ten Dorp (played by Lynn Allison) senses pain and death in the house of Sidney and Myra Bruhl — and she's right.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

  • IF YOU GO

    WHAT

    "Deathtrap"

    WHERE

    Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise

    WHEN

    8 p.m. June 12, 13, 18 and dates through July 25

    TICKETS

    $18 and $25 preview, $25 to $35 Sundays and Tuesdays to Thursdays ($12 for ages 6 to 17 on family night only), $30 to $42 Fridays and Saturdays, $18 for students with ID any night for berm seating. 336-9221 and IdahoShakespeare.org.

  • Audience reaction

    Keri McAtee, Nampa: "I thought it was great. I liked the interaction between all the characters and it had great dialogue. I loved the unexpected twists. I usually don't like scary stuff, but this was fun and entertaining."

    Maryann Aresti, visiting from Maine: "I thought it was awesome. I liked that it kept surprising me and you really didn't now what was going to happen next. And it scared me with the lighting and everything. The scenery was amazing and the acting was really good."

    Ralph Aresti, visiting from Rhode Island: "It was excellent. The actors are wonderful, and this particular play was great. With all the twists and unexpected turns it was delightful."

    Brain Marshall, Boise: "I'm not a mystery genre fan but I enjoyed a lot of the plot twists and there was a lot of passion behind the performances. It was a great way to open the season. Although it could use an update, like a Xerox machine? What is that?"

Idaho Shakespeare Festival has learned a little something about murder mystery in the past few years, with its productions of "The Mousetrap" in 2012 and "The Woman in Black" in 2010. Most importantly, people love them - and they're best performed in the dark.

The latter task was achieved through Rick Martin's always brilliant lighting design and clever use of timing. The show starts a few minutes later than usual, intermission lasts a few minutes longer, and by the second act the theater is plunged into darkness so the effects of a new computerized lighting system can work its spine-tingling magic.

And the audience at Saturday night's opening of "Deathtrap" just ate it up. There were gasps and moments of shocked awe provided by director Charlie Fee's stylish production.

Stylish is hard to do when you're set in the 1970s. But this production pulls it off with Russell Metheny's set - which is part looming Connecticut colonial home, part medieval torture chamber - and Alex Jaeger's flared pants and Florence Henderson-esque pant-suits. And, of course, Martin's lighting.

Ira Levin's comic thriller "Deathtrap" is a play within a play, about a play about a murder - follow? If you did, you might have a chance of holding on during the hairpin turns and plot twists that happen throughout.

The text is clever, self-referential and funny - if a bit dated. But some of the crucial plot points depend on that era's technology - or lack thereof.

This production that originated at ISF's sister company, Cleveland's Great Lakes Theater, is well played by a tightly wound ensemble.

It all hinges on the idea that art imitates life, and vice versa - a duality that provides the engine for the play.

Tom Ford is Sidney Bruhl, a greedy and once successful playwright in desperate financial straits who is willing to do almost anything to produce a hit. Murder? Maybe.

Ford deftly navigates the gray areas in his character, hitting all the right notes between charming victim and menacing adversary.

Attractive ISF newcomer Nick Steen's Clifford swings between a sweet aw-shucks charm and a cold-hearted deviousness.

Tracee Patterson makes her ISF debut as Myra Bruhl - Sidney's wealthy, nervous wife - and has the horror scream down.

Lynn Allison provides a huge dose of comic relief with her Dutch psychic Helga Ten Dorp. Her character's fiery red hair, eccentric clothing and Allison's spot-on comic timing make you want to see more.

Lynn Robert Berg rounds out the cast as Bruhl's attorney Porter Milgrim, the character who puts all the pieces together in the end.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

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