'Deathtrap' takes to the stage

Red Mask Players, left to right, front row Jim Rogers and Melanie Clark and back row, left to right, Mark Learnard, Theresa Tyner and Ross Hilleary, rehearse for the upcoming play "Deathtrap" at Kathryn Randolph Theater in Danville.

Matt Huber Commercial-News

DANVILLE — The play “Deathtrap” will keep audiences on the edge of their seats: Just when they think they can relax, something startling happens.

“It’s a thriller. It’s a good show,” said producer Maureen Niedenthal. “There are a lot of twists and turns.”

The Red Mask Players will present the comedy-thriller at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, and also 8 p.m. April 8 and 9, and 2 p.m. April 10 at the Kathryn Randolph Theatre, 601 N. Vermilion St.

“Deathtrap,” written by Ira Levin in 1978, is the longest-running thriller in Broadway history.

The play revolves around Sidney Bruhl (played by Mark Learned), a successful writer of Broadway thrillers who is struggling to overcome a dry spell.

Then he receives a script from a student (Clifford Anderson, played by Ross Hilleary) in the seminar he has been conducting; it’s a thriller that could be a Broadway hit.

Sidney's plan, which he devises with help from his wife (played by Theresa Tyner) is to offer collaboration to the student. Thereafter suspense mounts steadily as the plot begins to twist and turn.

Also in the play are Melanie Clark as the psychic Helga ten Dorp and Jim Rogers as the attorney, Porter Milgrim. Stage manager is Lauren Hous and director is Drake Taylor.

There is some violence, so the show is recommended for adults only.

However, there’s comedy, too, Niedenthal said.

“With all the drama and violence, it would be hard for the audience to go through it with us (without comedy),” she said.

An interesting note about the show is that Red Mask presented it in April 1983, with current Mayor Scott Eisenhauer in the role of the student. Thirty-three years later, the role is being played by Ross Hilleary, planning technician with the City of Danville. Both are Danville natives.

Hilleary said he did ask Eisenhauer for advice, and was told: Make it your own character.

Every actor is going to do a character differently and add something, Hilleary said.

When he was in school, Hilleary was in Show Choir and marching band, was in the “Grease” ensemble and acted in the Lincoln Park Theatre Company.

This is his first role as an adult. He hadn’t heard of the play, but went to the library and read a couple of scenes before deciding to audition.

He and others studied the 1982 movie, starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon.

“I definitely want to stay with Red Mask,” he said, if not as an actor, then behind the scenes, adding that it’s a good group of people to work with.

Taylor, as director, said 25 people auditioned for the five spots, and it was difficult to make a final decision.

“Each one was so strong they could carry the show themselves,” he said.

Director's challenges

Taylor also said there are several unique elements to the play, adding, “I tried to think outside the box.”

For one thing, the actors are learning their fight scenes from choreographer, Kurt Willer.

“His big emphasis is on safety,” Taylor said, explaining that Willer is showing them how to “fight” without injury. “He did a great job.”

Another novelty is that Chris Huffman will play the keyboard during certain scenes; some recorded music also will be used.

“It adds such an interesting element to the whole play,” Taylor said, especially during the tense scenes.

Also, two artists came in to paint murals — Brittany McDaniels painted a barn scene and Mike Harper painted a French door/outdoors mural.

The play, set in the late 1970s, has a set that mirrors that era; there’s a macramé plant hanger, for example, and a ‘70s couch from The ReStore.

A challenge is that the play is dialogue-heavy, Taylor said, and it’s a play within a play.

“It’s been a real challenge how to separate the two story lines,” he said.

Although the show has only five actors, a total of 28 people make up the cast and crew. Many are new to Red Mask or have limited experience, he said.

“I’m involving as many people as I can,” he said. “I’m so thrilled at how hardworking and dedicated they are.”

Niedenthal said she applauds Taylor for bringing in people with different strengths.

As for the cast and crew, she said, “It’s fun watching them rehearse and bringing the show together. They’re dedicated and excited to put on the show.”

For tickets

• Learn more at www.redmaskplayers.com.

• Pick up and pay for your tickets during box office hours at the theater, 601 N. Vermilion St., from 7-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and April 7.

• Call 442-5858 or email redmaskplayers@hotmail.com and leave your name, date you wish to attend, number of seats needed, how many are season members and an evening phone number for call back; have a credit card ready. Call or email at least 24 hours before the performance you would like to attend.