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LIGHTNING REVIEW: 'Deathtrap' keeps audience guessing

Garrett Long, Michael MacCauley and Jarid Faubel star in 'Deathtrap' Garrett Long, Michael MacCauley and Jarid Faubel star in 'Deathtrap'

"Deathtrap" is tense from the start.

There are only two people on stage. What's this? It feels odd. Then I remember why.
We're used to seeing "Evita" and "Les Miserables," the sensational summer musicals. Now no one breaks out in song. Only one set. It's back to the old ways, when the Flat Rock Playhouse did a show a week, a lot of them one-set mysteries like "Deathtrap," although this play runs for three weeks. It's a murder mystery. Supposed to be tense.
In the rustic converted stable, the playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael MacCauley) is throwing a tantrum about a student's script. It's very good. So good that he's plotting a way to eliminate the student — as in murder — and appropriate the script as his own. He'll be famous again! He's just being dramatic, isn't he? That's what Sidney's wife, Myra, hopes. She's not sure.
Because ... Sidney has pieced together a lot of details. He rationalizes that the disappearance of the student, who is housesitting in a nearby town, won't be noticed. "The police won't even bother to yawn," he says. Who will miss him?
Myra, played by Garrett Long, is worried. Can he really be serious?
The room's décor offers plenty of weapons to use. On the walls, over the mantel, on tabletops is an arsenal to arm the warrior from the Middle Ages to the Old West: seven knives and daggers, seven swords, 18 pistols, two whips, a long rifle, a Winchester, a crossbow, a pair of handcuffs and a mace.
"What's the point in owning a mace if you don't use it once in a while," Sidney says.
Sidney is in crisis over his inability to write another hit play.
"Nothing recedes like success," he says bitterly.
It's a good line. Trouble is, he hasn't strung together enough good lines to make a sellable play in 18 years. He's desperate. Desperation is the devil's laboratory. So maybe ... Well, we'll see.
Sidney makes the call. He invites the kid over.
The student, Clifford (played by Playhouse newcomer Jarid Faubel), is a "Leave it to Beaver" charmer. Innocent and eager, Clifford worships Sidney. Sidney's hit play "Murder Game" was Clifford's inspiration. If only he could write a murder mystery like that.
Sidney proves himself to be worse than a pompous ass. He's a murdering pompous ass. He tricks Clifford into putting on a pair of handcuffs, comes up behind him and ... you'll have to see the show.
Of course any murder mystery where the murder happens right before our eyes, showing us the murderer, can't be the real story, right? Right. But what is the real story? You have to buy a ticket to ride.

Ralph Redpath, in a small role as Sidney's lawyer, appears on stage to liven things up. Peggy J. Scott is over the top as the psychic neighbor Helga Ten Dorp. Too far over I thought. Perhaps she'll dial back the overdone German accent and hyperactivity so the audience can hear all the words, instead of every third one.
There's a dramatic surprise when we learn that the murder was not exactly as it seemed and from then on nothing is exactly as it seems. We're left to wonder who will win out in a battle between dueling playwrights. Is murder fact or fiction?
MacCauley is creepy and volatile throughout. We can't root for his Sidney. But we don't necessarily root for young Clifford either. "Deathtrap" ain't "Les Miz." There's no redemption for these characters. They have no character. Only greed and survival.
The show is a well-acted thrill ride.
If the home stretch of summer is the time for a good murder mystery, then "Deathtrap" fits the bill. It will keep audiences riveted.