Given my no spoiler approach to my reviews, I find Deathtrap to be a play that is ridiculously difficult to review. The fact that nearly anything I could say about it comes under the category of big old spoiler alert, annoys me and will probably annoy you. That being said, I apologize for what might appear as lack of substance here as I try to potentially set an expectation for Hillbarn Theatre’s production of the play, without giving anything away.
The play has a very specific structure, exceedingly detailed set design, explicit stage direction and even essential character traits built into the script, all of which have a delightful and even frightful payoff for the viewer that is unfamiliar with the play. It has a good sense of humor about itself, the thriller genre and delivers if the company pays attention to the particulars. The good thing is it’s well-crafted and suspenseful. The not as good thing is unfortunately, this is just one of these plays that if you know what happens, it’s not nearly as engaging as the first time you saw it. Despite Hillbarn’s solid performances, directing and technical competency, I personally fall into the category of having been there and seen that, so my own experience is certainly tainted.
Hillbarn did their homework and paid attention to the details, and I have to give them high marks for presenting a clean and accurate interpretation of the script for sure. There are a number of very funny moments in this production and the set is absolutely gorgeous to look at. They used the space well for the most part the characters were three-dimensional and well performed.
I would have liked to see a little more natural and a little less melodramatic, forced acting in the first act. Though the second act sped up and the actors seemed to really come into their own, giving some fantastic very genuine performances, I found the first half to be just a bit too over the top with regard to already obvious and intentional foreshadowing. You don’t go into a thriller without expecting everything to be a clue and I just felt the audience wasn’t given quite enough credit at the start.
And, I really, REALLY, wish I could say more. I would praise commitments and choices and originality if I could be assured it wouldn’t hint at anything crucial to the plot twists. I would. But… I can’t.
Suffice to say, I think for one that hasn’t seen a production of Deathtrap before, this certainly would be ranked higher. It is an entertaining piece of theatre for sure and well presented. Since I sadly couldn’t replicate that virgin experience myself, I’m handing it a very respectable 3 1/2 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a good production of a good play, well-chosen for the space and talent that Hillbarn has access to. Deathtrap plays through Novemeber 4th in Foster City.