Remember Rocky Horror Picture Show? The innocent young couple has car trouble and arrives at a gothic mansion expecting help. Instead, events turn strange inside the mansion: Fear turns to fun and bizarre happenings.
Interplayers' surprise package in this year's season is The Deadly Game by James Yaffe, adapted from the novel Trapps, by Frederich Durrenmatt. A stranger appears at the door and is invited in by a group of well-dressed gentlemen preparing for a dinner party. You may laugh at a few strange twists of fate, but it's definitely a tense evening in this old Swiss chalet.
Recently, someone shared with me a simple legal case where a touch on the arm was interpreted as assault -- I thought of that while the play unfolded. It is terrifying to think that the law can be manipulated to whatever purpose one desires. Like a quote taken out of context, a situation can easily be wrenched out of reality and into a surreal world.
In 1960, James Yaffe adapted the novel that Durrenmatt wrote as social commentary. Yaffe has turned it into a good thriller. Durrenmatt died in 1990, with a reputation as one of the leading European playwright/novelists of his time. His novels continue to be the basis of inspiration for plays and movies. In fact, The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson, is the most recent play-to-film adaptation of his work.
Durrenmatt was influenced by his grandfather, who was a satirist and political poet. His dark plays, always tinged with comic moments, investigate the human condition, but have a decidedly chilling edge to them. His most popular plays include The Visit, The Physicists, and Play Strindberg. The Visit was made popular by the film starring Ingrid Bergman.
The most exciting aspect of The Deadly Game, other than the fact that this production did keep me on the edge of my seat for all of Act Two, is that the cast features outstanding homegrown talent. Some local favorites in the production include Ed Cornachio and Gary Pierce. Newcomers on the scene include Rebecca Dutton, Kevin Partridge and Pamela Stark. All three are actors who live right here in River City. Kevin is actually from the city by the lake, Coeur d'Alene. Interplayers stalwarts, Robert Welch and Michael Weaver, join this group as does the talented Stephen L. Barron, who has graced the Interplayers' stage three times this year in Arsenic and Old Lace, Art and now as Mr. Trapp in The Deadly Game.
The best performance of the evening (or matinee, in my case) was Michael Weaver's tight lipped prosecuting attorney, Gustave Kummer. This is the best work I have seen Weaver do in the nine years that I have watched his work. He is controlled and controlling, evil incarnate. I believed him and hated him, all rolled up in one. A brilliant job.
Following on Michael's heels are Ed Cornachio as the defense attorney, Bernard Laroque, and our "victim," Stephen L. Barron as Howard Trapp. The scenes with the two attorneys and Mr. Trapp are powerful and very well done. Cornachio and Barron are both excellent. Durrenmatt's choice of "Trapp" for the name of the American traveling salesman who ventures into this Swiss "star chamber" is perfect. Robert Welch as the charming host, Judge Emile Carpeau, whose chalet becomes the country courtroom, and Gary Pierce as the befuddled, but focused mystery friend of Emile, complete this elderly quartet. They are retired bureaucrats who like to play a nightly game reliving history's great trials over dinner and drinks.
As the newcomers, Rebecca Dutton as the French maid and Kevin Partridge as the mute, but not deaf, Pierre, add a touch of spice to the overall entertainment. Director Joan Welch has done a fine job guiding her actors. Act One did seem a bit slow to me; perhaps if the intentions had been played with more energy in Act One, it would have helped build the suspense to Act Two. However, Act Two starts with a bang and doesn't relent. Since it's a thriller, I'm not going to give many details, but suffice it to say that you will be riveted to your seat for the remainder of the play.
Designer Jason Laws has created a lovely set complete with snow clinging to the outside of a comfortable window seat. There is a very real fireplace in a room that exudes warmth nestled in the wintry Swiss Alps. The warm interior provides a good juxtaposition for the frightening events that transpire.
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