OK -- first rule of reviewing a thriller is that one cannot give away any secrets or surprises. That doesn't leave much to say about the plot of Deathtrap, not even who gets murdered or why or with what or how. The "where" is safe, though, since Ira Levin's 1978 Tony-winner takes place on a single set, which the new Theatre Factory production fills with murder weapons almost as sharp as the wit hefted about by a talented and well-chosen cast.
Chief hefter is Ted Hoover as Sidney Bruhl, an aging playwright who struggles for a hit but not for a bon mot. Hoover (who also reviews plays for CP) mixes guile with guilt, while staying in control. Far less restrained is Claire Fraley as Helga ten Dorp, a supposed psychic who pushes the plot along while threatening to steal scenes. The character is already larger than life, but Fraley makes her eccentricities believable as well as scarier.
Linda Stayer solidly portrays the sensible Myra, Sidney's wife. She's the most well-grounded of the characters, and Stayer has a subtle way with fear that makes it more effective. Nathan G. Jay is a bit overmatched as Sidney's ambitious student, Clifford Anderson. While he should be more formidable, though, Jay handles the charm part convincingly, and he moves well. Daniel K. Maha has a creditable suburban New York accent and the appropriate understated manner as the family lawyer with the painfully preppie name of Porter Milgrim.
As important to the plot as any of the characters is the set, filled with props and lethal possibilities, not to mention the upper-crust cachet of a well-to-do Westport couple. As set designer, Scott P. Calhoon does an outstanding job on what-sort-of-budget-I-cannot-imagine; Calhoon is assisted in construction by Evan Hauth, with painting and set decoration by Janet Schafer, Eve Schafer and Victoria Voller. A special hand goes to whoever collected/built the weapon collection, as well as the posters (sorry, Sidney: "window cards") of Bruhl's various hits.
Levin's play is facile and contrived -- truth to tell, it won't even provide real surprises to hardcore thriller-lovers -- but it does offer a lot of fun. There are a few whispers of Deeper Meaning and Earnest Relevance, but they don't interfere with the overriding sense of pure escapism. Director Michael E. Moats has put together a thoroughly enjoyable, if lethal, evening of entertainment.
Deathtrap continues through Nov. 11. The Theatre Factory, 235 Cavitt Ave., Trafford. 412-374-9200 or www.thetheatrefactory.com