Through Sunday, June 10
NCSU’s Titmus Theatre, Raleigh

To anyone considering a relationship with a wordsmith, a word of warning, from experience: Writers don’t fight—at least, not in any conventional sense. Instead, they just … rewrite. I went from romantic lead to episodic supporting character in one distractible young author’s life while I was out buying groceries. Then there was the college-town scribe who decided my views—and face—needed a bit more editing, with his fists.

So everyone surrounding Deathtrap’s central character, a playwright named Sidney Bruhl, has good reason to be wary. By the end of Ira Levin’s devious mystery, Sidney’s wealthy wife, Myra, his bright young mentee, Clifford, his attorney, and even his next-door neighbor will all learn the extent to which he feels entitled to revise or cut their relationships. And that, in turn, will encourage some to reciprocate, with extreme prejudice.

Not every forty-year-old thriller has the power to elicit gasps. This one still does, thanks in large part to director John McIlwee, in his penultimate production before retirement. (He takes his final bow with TheatreFest 2018‘s last show, Nunsense, next week.) He briskly puts a brace of convincing actors through their paces on Jayme Mellema’s tasteful set. Seldom-seen actor Wade Newhouse gives more than murderous looks as Sidney. Veteran actor Lynda Clark telegraphs Myra’s well-founded misgivings. Justin Brent Johnson adds an impressive line to his résumé as Clifford, a budding playwright with one too many good ideas. To no one’s surprise, experienced character actors JoAnne Dickinson and Danny Norris are solid in supporting roles.

The grisly charm of Levin’s work is that it’s more of a who’ll-do-it-and-when than a whodunit. It also raises the question of whether that murder, well staged by fight choreographers Heather J. Strickland and Jason Bailey, can possibly be the last. If you’re looking for a cool thriller to beat the summer heat, Deathtrap delivers.