A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Brian Foyster (as Sidney Bruhl) and Burt Grinstead (as Clifford Anderson) in Ira Levin's "Deathtrap" / Photo by Zackry Barclift

The current re-mounting of Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre ranks as one of the best technically produced productions in Los Angeles; comparable with, and even surpassing, the production values of major theater venues.

Entering the tiny 50-seat black box theater, the stunning, detailed two-story living room set created by Joel Daavid truly astounds. This is the cottage that Myra Bruhl’s family money, combined with husband Sidney Bruhl’s successful playwriting profits, have provided. Theater cards and posters of Sidney’s hit plays cover the dark walls wherever pieces of his ancient weapon collection are not hanging. Writing paraphernalia (papers, folders, pencils and — Gasp! — a typewriter) clutters the room’s furniture piece of focus — Sidney’s desk.  Yes, “Deathtrap” takes place in a time when carbon paper was required to make copies and phones had cords and a rotary dial.

Director Ken Sawyer’s clever choices of haunting background music, both pre-show and accenting various scenes during the production, perfectly set and heighten the playful, suspense-filled ambiance.

Luke Moyer’s effective variance of mood lighting, fireplace burning and lightning flashes add immensely to the tautness and immediacy of this mystery.

The love that dares not speak its name — what was only suggested in the original 1978 version of “Deathtrap” — gets explicit exhibition in this new remounting. The five-person cast of capable actors features two stand-outs: the hunky Burt Grinstead as Clifford Anderson, the promising writing student of the once-successful playwright Sidney (Brian Foyster), and the scene-stealing Elizabeth Herron as next-door neighbor/psychic Helga Ten Dorp.  Others in the cast include Cynthia Gravinese as Sidney’s wife Myra and Stephen Mendillo as Porter Milgrim, the Bruhls’ attorney.

“Deathtrap” is one of those theatrical thrillers with major plot twists better not spoiled, but experienced.  So only the beginnings can be revealed in this review.  Sidney teaches playwriting seminars. One eager student, Clifford, mails him his first script to critique. Sidney shares with his wife how wonderful he thinks Clifford’s first attempt at playwriting is. He invites Clifford to their cottage to discuss his script.  Then Clifford arrives…

Sawyer directs the plot twists followed by more plot twists at a fast clip.

—Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA

Performances continue through May 6 at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit www.lagaycenter.org/theatre or call (323) 860-7300.