Playwright Sidney Bruhl is in desperate need of a hit. In the knick of time, a former student sends him the manuscript of his first play — a murder-mystery called "Deathtrap."
"The question is, really, what would you do for another hit play?" said May Adrales, the New York City-based director in town to direct "Deathtrap" at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre.
"It's billed as a comedy-thriller," she said in a phone interview before a rehearsal. "It focuses on Sidney, a playwright late in his career, and he's confronted by another rising star, and that's where the play begins.
"If I've done my job right, you have a certain set of expectations and then everything is turned topsy-turvy."
"Deathtrap" opened on Broadway in 1978. The whodunit, set up as a play-within-a-play, holds the record for the longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.
"There are just five characters in it, so it's fairly simple in that way," Adrales said. "But it's incredibly well-constructed. The language is just impeccable, and the dialogue is cunning, witty and smart. The characters are so complex and interesting — it's just incredibly witty. It's a delight to work on."
Adrales grew up with parents in the medical field and found her love of theater through storytelling. "I was a great reader. I loved to read, and I was drawn to characters and story," she said.
"Then you get to that one production that makes you think a little more deeply about the world you're living in and more deeply about yourself and your relationships to people and to the world, and that's where theater comes in.
"Theater can also be incredibly beautiful to watch," she said. "I love working on plays that transport me to a different world, that capture the human emotion and put it on stage."
Though Adrales said "Deathtrap" is more about entertainment, "it's also about making you feel alive when you're sitting in that seat and wondering what’s going to happen next and what's going to happen to these people and be shocked and surprised," she said.
"We want you to sit there for a couple of hours and go for a ride. You could be drawn in by action and plot alone, or you'll be drawn into these characters, complex and unique. It's a thrilling roller coaster."
The comedy-thriller genre calls for many role-reversals, where the audience expects one thing to happen but something else happens instead, Adrales said.
"This happens masterfully throughout the text, and it’s incredibly challenging to do," she said. "These actors are doing an incredible job.”
Adrales, in Salt Lake City for the first time, is also appreciative. “I love Utah! I was looking out my window and looking at these beautiful mountains and thinking I’m lucky to be here.”
If you go ...
Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City
When: March 28-April 12, times vary, matinees available
How much: $25 - $44
Tickets: 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."