— Production photo credit: Tracy Chernaske
Vancouver's 2013-14 theatre season has seen its share of milestones. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre celebrates its 40th birthday, the Arts Club its 50th. If the Playhouse had survived one more year it would also have marked half a century. Almost forgotten amid the commemorations is a company that pre-dates them all, Metro Theatre.
Operating out of its own 309-seat building, that downscale deco theatre on the south side of Marine Drive in Marpole that you pass as you hit the entrance ramp to the Arthur Laing Bridge, Metro is a phenomenon. The company has staged 465 plays in its fifty-one seasons. Its website boasts that they produce nine shows annually, more than any other non-professional company in North America.
Non-professional is the operative word here. Metro is the flagship of our region's flourishing community (aka amateur) theatre network: the North Vancouver Community Players, the Surrey Little Theatre, the Vagabond Players of New Westminster and many more. These are the folks who do it not for money but for love. Amore and amateur come from the same Latin root.
Metro's repertoire consists of crowd-pleasing comedies, musicals and thrillers. No Metro season would be complete without an Agatha Christie. Next up for them is an English farce called There Goes the Bride, followed by Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado.
The current show, American playwright Ira Levin's Deathtrap, operates as both an homage to the classic thriller genre and a clever self-referential comic commentary on the kind of script that makes playwrights and Broadway producers rich. Levin authored the novels Rosemary's Baby, The Boys from Brazil and The Stepford Wives. He knew how to write stories that could be turned into commercially successful films. With Deathtrap he plays with the formula for putting millions of bums into theatre seats.
Deathtrap ran on Broadway for four years (1978-82) and has been staged constantly since then. In 1982 it was made into a hit movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. Levin was clearly no amateur.
A single-set five-character thriller, Deathtrap takes place in the Connecticut country house study of Broadway playwright Sidney Bruhl (Drew Taylor), known for writing single-set five-character stage thrillers with titles like The Murder Game. But Sidney is in a slump. He hasn't had a hit for years and he's suffering writer's block.
One day he receives a playscript in the mail from his former student Clifford Anderson (James Behenna). It's Clifford's first play, a single-set five-character thriller called Deathtrap, and Sidney is certain it could be a huge money-making Broadway smash. Sidney's wife Myra (Melanie Preston) suggests that he offer to polish the script for Clifford in exchange for a co-authorship credit.
But Sidney has another idea. Realizing that Clifford hasn't told anyone else about the play, and that no other copies exist (typewriters and carbon copies loom large in this pre-computer world), he proposes inviting Clifford to their isolated home, killing him with one of the antique weapons that line the study walls, and taking full credit himself for the script, and subsequent hit play, of Deathtrap.
Clifford's arrival brings many twists, turns and reversals, none of which I can mention without spoiling the fun. There will be blood, corpses, a gasp or two, thunder and lightning, and some laughs. We will be told the plot of Clifford's play Deathtrap, which will resemble in great detail the plot of Ira Levin's play Deathtrap. A couple of other characters will appear: Sidney's lawyer and friend Porter Milgram (Don Briard) and a neighbouring psychic, Helga Van Torp (Deborah Tom), who can sense the ominous events that have happened and those that will happen at the scene of the crimes.
The tone of the piece is encapsulated in a moment just after one character has killed another and asks a companion to help move the body: "Would you give me a hand here? No point in my getting a hernia."
Cynical, matter-of-factly murderous Sidney carries most of the show, and Drew Taylor works hard at finding the charmingly roguish formula for Sidney that Michael Caine nails so perfectly in the movie. Taylor's Sidney wears a similar ascot but his opening night performance was overly mannered. Metro's long run should allow him to relax into the role. Behenna's Clifford is convincingly natural and Deborah Tom brings an energetic comic quality to her heavily accented Helga.
Don Briard not only does a nice job with the small role of the lawyer but directs the production and has designed the handsome, detailed set as well as the effective lighting and sound.
Deathtrap is Metro-style theatre in a nutshell--a lighthearted, entertaining labour of love.