Review: ‘Deathtrap,’ timed for thrills

 Marsha Mason (left) and Angela Pierce in

Marsha Mason (left) and Angela Pierce in "Deathtrap" at Bucks County Playhouse.

You can hear a lot of gasping at Bucks County Playhouse these nights, and not primarily because “Deathtrap” is at times an anachronism that seems like a museum piece. (One example Philadelphians of certain ages identify with: “Merv Griffin Show” references.) No, I think the gasps are a compliment to the production because this “Deathtrap” is meticulously timed to thrill.

Evan Cabnet’s staging at the Playhouse beautifully serves Iran Levin’s masterfully constructed play. Levin calls for a tightly-wound telling. Cabnet obliges, then releases the springs here and there for maximum effect.

He’s assembled the right cast for it, with headliner Marsha Mason, a veteran who brings a great deal of charisma and just the right touch of mystery to the clairvoyant residing next store to the action – action I can’t really tell you anything about because revealing any little piece of the plot would dent this play’s charms.

I can say that it’s about a washed-up playwright who receives a script in the mail from a young man who’s taken one of the playwright’s workshops – a script called “Deathtrap” that’s frightfully good. The two decide to meet and talk over the play.

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If you’ve seen the play, which opened on Broadway in 1978 and won the best-play Tony Award, or the 1982 film with Christopher Reeves, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon, you probably haven’t seen it recently. So a look at “Deathtrap” will seem fresh. It seemed that way to me, the dated references aside, because Cabnet’s production pays minor attention to the funny lines and focuses on the plot, which is fun enough.

The playwright in the show is performed at the Playhouse by Saxon Palmer, and Angela Pierce takes the roll of his wife. The young student who sends the “Deathtrap” script is Raviv Ullman and David Wohl is an attorney. Along with Mason, they handle the play’s many deceits and turnabouts with aplomb – and impeccable timing that is the production’s cache.

Levin, who died seven years ago, was an all-around fiction writer, mostly of novels but also screenplays, and of thrillers, fantasies and comedies. “A Kiss Before Dying” was his first novel, followed by such widely respected titles as “The Stepford Wives,” “The Boys from Brazil” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s wholly satisfying to revisit “Deathtrap,” to see Levin’s clever mind at work — work so carefully handled.

_“Deathtrap” runs through July 13 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope. 215-862-2121 or

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