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