Steve Hendrickson and Michael Booth.
Photo by Drew Trampe
It's tough to talk about Deathtrap without giving away the thriller's many secrets.
"It's a play about two men writing a play... about two men writing a play... about two men writing a play," says Steve Hendrickson, who plays established-but-blocked author Sidney in the production of Ira Levin's thriller opening Friday at the Jungle Theater.
"There is a foundation level of what is actually going on and then there are several layers of misdirection where you think you're understanding something, but are actually seeing something else," he adds.
It's a play where a lot is revealed when the audience thinks back over what they saw and "what light bulbs will go off in hindsight," says Michael Booth, who plays the young and hungry writer Clifford.
Levin -- who wrote Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, among many other thrillers -- had a massive hit with Deathtrap, which played for years on Broadway after its premiere in 1978. It was followed by a film version starring Christopher Reeve.
"I decided to not revisit the film and just learn as much as I could from the script itself," Booth says. "What we've gone after is to try to show the humanity in the thing and work from there."
"This is a play you can easily kid or camp, and a lot of productions do that. We have gone to great pains not to do that," Hendrickson says.
The playwright "has a lot of fun poking fun at himself as he is writing. He pokes fun at the whole idea of writing a thriller while pulling one off with great humor and panache," Booth says.
While crafting real characters is essential to make the show truly work, the actors know that a lot of attention will be played to the multiple twists and turns of the plot.
"Part of the fun and the challenge is that you can only see this play one time and be surprised," Hendrickson says. "After that, you come back and kind of marvel at the construction. What I like to do with movies and plays like this is watch them with people who haven't seen it before and watch them to see if they have the same reaction."
They are joined by Cheryl Willis, Claudia Wilkens, and Terry Hempleman in the Bain Boehlke-directed production.
"It's such a theatrical inside joke. It's a meta-theatrical play about writing a play. The play they are writing, the play you are watching," he adds.
Along the way, there are references to a pair of other great onstage thrillers -- Dial M for Murder and Sleuth -- along with the play Angel Street, which was made into the film Gaslight, Hendrickson says. "Angel Street was kind of the first murder-mystery thriller. It references all of these. If you are into this sort of thing, you will enjoy it on that level, if not -- you need to know nothing going in. It's a great play for people who hate theater."
"There's a fundamental fascination we have with the idea of killing somebody. I think it is something everybody has fantasized about, either whimsically or at moments where you could look at someone and pick up a baseball bat. And 99.9999 percent of us don't do that, but we are always fascinated with 'what if' and if we could get away with it. That has driven detective fiction since Poe. A crime has been committed -- a seemingly perfect crime -- and the fun is whether the person is going to get away with it," says Hendrickson, who will next be seen on the other side of the equation when he plays Sherlock Holmes at Park Square Theatre.
"We have a basic need to solve puzzles. We look at it and try to see ahead and try to see one step ahead of the character. Intermissions are a lot of fun. How many pieces of the puzzle are on the table? Everyone likes to play detective," Booth says.
IF YOU GO:
Friday through May 19
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.822.7063 or visit online.