"Deathtrap" by Ira Levin
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Deathtrap is a play by Ira Levin in 1978 with many plot twists and references itself as a play within a play. It is in two acts with one set and five characters. It holds the record for the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway and was also nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. Deathtrap was well received by many and has been frequently revived. It was adapted into a film starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine, and Dyan Cannon in 1982.

Synopsis

Action: In Sidney Bruhl's study, in the Bruhl home in Westport, Connecticut.

Act 1, Scene 1: An afternoon in October

Sidney Bruhl, an accomplished writer, has had a series of box office flops and is having trouble writing the next play. When he reads a play by Clifford Anderson, a younger writer, he decides to steal the script and kill him.

Act 1, Scene 2: That evening

Clifford stops by Sidney's office to learn what he thinks of his play. While asking Clifford questions that allude to murder, Sidney kills him as Sidney's wife Myra looks on in horror. Sidney wraps Clifford's body in a rug and discusses how he plans to take credit for Clifford's play.

Act 1, Scene 3: Two hours later

As Sidney returns from disposing of Clifford's body, psychic Helga ten Dorp visits to tell Sidney and Myra that she is receiving bad vibes from the house. Helga wanders around the house revealing only trivial insights. When she leaves, Sidney is elated that Helga has not discovered the murder. As he goes to turn off the lights, Clifford, covered in mud, snatches him from behind, attack Sidney as Helga had predicted he would. Myra, shocked by the evening's events, collapses, apparently the victim of a heart attack. Clifford confirms Myra's death and exclaims to Sidney that their plan has been successful. Clifford's murder had been staged to shock and kill Myra.

Act 2, Scene 1: Two weeks later, morning

Two weeks have elapsed. Clifford is working on his manuscript. Sidney continues to suffer from writer's block. Porter Milgrim, Sidney's attorney, tells Sidney he has seen Clifford locking his manuscript away and tells Sidney not to trust Clifford. Sidney surreptitiously reads Clifford's manuscript and learns that Clifford is writing a play called Deathtrap that reveals their whole plot for Myra's death. Sidney confronts Clifford, who persuades him that the murder was so clever they will never be suspected.

Act 2, Scene 2: A week later, night

Helga once again tells Sidney that she has a bad feeling about Clifford. She leaves, and Sidney telephones Clifford to invite him to visit and see the progress Sidney has been making on the second act of his play. Sidney asks Clifford to act out parts of the second act, which includes a violent struggle. Sidney reveals that the struggle was to produce evidence that he needed to kill Clifford and that he plans to burn the manuscript of Deathtrap. Sidney shoots at Clifford but finds that the bullets in his gun are blanks. Clifford aims a gun at Sidney and handcuffs Sidney to a chair. The Handcuffs prove fake, and Sidney escapes, grabs a crossbow, and shoots Clifford. Imagining that the fight is over, Sidney starts to telephone the police, but Clifford rises up behind him, and pulls the arrow from his own body, and stabs Sidney. Both die.

Act 2, Scene 3: A week later, afternoon

Helga and Porter wandering through the room as she reveals the events that led to the deaths. They discuss how the story would make an excellent thriller. They begin to argue about which of them should claim authorship of the play. The curtain falls.

Characters

  • Sidney Bruhl
  • Myra Bruhl
  • Clifford Anderson
  • Helga ten Dorp
  • Porter Milgrim

Production History

Opening Venue Company
Feb 26, 1978 Music Box Theatre
Jan 7, 1982 Biltmore Theatre
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