By CHARLES WHALEY
Ira Levin’s intricate, constantly surprising plotting for his justly famous “Deathtrap” murder mystery can still cannily ensnare theatergoers.
Derby Dinner Playhouse’s producing director Bekki Jo Schneider and her sharp-as-a-tack cast knew how to ratchet up the tension and keep Thursday night’s press opening audience guessing and gasping at sudden unexpected twists.
Playwright Sidney Bruhl (David Myers in fine form) hasn’t had a Broadway mystery hit for 18 years, causing him a bad case of writer’s block.
But when Clifford Anderson (jaunty, hero-worshipping Brian Bowman), a budding young writer who attended one of his seminars, asks him for advice about a brilliant whodunit he has written, Bruhl and his well-to-do wife Myra (Tina Jo Wallace) hatch a plan.
Things go terribly awry, however, and these people become pawns in what they’ve unleashed. To say more would bring on spoilers.
Not even the batty Dutch psychic Helga Ten Dorp (Elizabeth Loos as a Madame Arcati type who lives next door) or Bruhl’s worldly lawyer Porter Milgrim (J. R. Stuart) escape unsullied.
Levin craftily imbeds a play called “Deathtrap” in this 1978 thriller that still ranks among the top 25 long runs on Broadway. A subdued homoeroticism runs through both it and the 1982 film that starred Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon.
You expect those murder weapons mounted on the wall that Bruhl has collected for research will play a part. Levin takes his time to build up that suspense.
Helga’s psychic ruminations as she sniffs out danger and pain in the Bruhl home are a lot of over-the-top fun during this very adult goosepimply show that now qualifies as a Halloween offering.
“Deathtrap” runs through Nov. 10. For tickets and information call 812-288-8281, toll free 877-898-8577, or www.derbydinner.com.