Special to Arts Weekend
How do I love thee, Antoinette LaVecchia? Let me count the ways. I love thee in your stature. I love thee in your goofiness. I love thee in your poise. I love thee in your mocking. I love thee in your pout. I love thee in your tears.
I can go on, but most of all, I've loved thee for the last few years, ever since you single handedly tackled several dozen roles in "The Pavilion," at Dorset Theatre Festival.
Putting aside my obvious fixation with the multitalented Ms. LaVecchia, there is much else to love in DTF's summer swan song, "Deathtrap," by Ira Levin, and the closing of another wildly successful season under third year artistic director Dina Janis.
Levin's popular play, directed by DTF resident director Giovanna Sardelli, has been on stage and screen with considerable success. It offers a skillful meshing of two essential theatrical elements: Thrills and laughter.
The story begins in Oct. 1978, at Connecticut home of award-winning Broadway playwright Sidney Bruhl (Jonathan Walker) and his wife Myra (Amelia White). Sidney has received a new thriller for review from a former seminar student of his, Clifford Anderson (Quincy Dunn-Baker).
Or has he? Without a success to his credit for some time, Sidney schemes with a very reluctant Myra about how to best plagiarize "Deathtrap." The simmering heats up when Clifford appears to discuss the play. The three are joined by forays from next-door Dutch psychic Helga Ten Dorp (LaVecchia) and Bruhl's attorney Porter Milgrim (Kirk Jackson). Events then take a turn for the sinister.
Walker and White were ying and yang, perfect complements to each other, from conniving to mortified. One couldn't help but detest Sidney as each layer of his plot unfolded and every unforeseen twist came out. To say he was an opportunistic weasel would be far too kind, and Walker did this debasement proud.
White stuttered, fretted and worried her way to having anyone in the theater asking the obvious question -- what made you stay with this creep when you were the one with the family money? Her tension was palpable enough to make me reach for my Maalox.
Dunn-Baker's cavalier but calculating youthful presence reminded everyone, even in moments of jest, that misery -- or in this case treachery -- loves company. Stage veteran Walker also had a few plot surprises of his own under the suburban pretension, which were made effective by his depiction of the business attorney whose first impression was as flat as soda water that lost its fizz.
But we must return to LaVecchia. Someday I will solve what makes her tick. In the meantime, I'll remain happily mesmerized. One moment she makes you cry; the next, you can't stop laughing. Clearly, LaVecchia is at her best when fully engaged, taking the audience on a roller coaster ride in the front car. I yearned to see her zaniness on display a bit more in this production, something both Sardelli and Janis can chew on as they look to cast her again -- the sooner the better.
Yet while LaVecchia's Ten Dorp masterpiece didn't quite get enough stage time for her character -- one that was constantly mentioned and built up by the other four -- she played the role she plays so very well: The synthesizer. As in "The Pavilion," LaVecchia brought together the action of "Deathtrap," both when she was under the lights, and then from the shadows. That's not just talent. It's another thing to add to the list of reasons for which to love her.
Debra Booth's set was practical, warm and inviting -- hardly the place one would expect for such flimflam. Lights by Michael Giannitti added suspense as well as subtle caricature. In fact, the same can be said for sound by Jill B.C. DuBoff, with the added goody of mood-setting 70s hits playing before the opening curtain. Costume designer Barbara A. Bell outdid herself with Helga's outfits -- they were loopy keepers.
Another campaign has come and gone under Janis, leaving one yearning for more. Triumph begets triumph, and she knows it more than anyone. Perhaps this is what gives Janis a spark, as well as keeps her on her toes, always looking ahead at how to improve Dorset on the horizon. "Deathtrap," a welcome closing act for 2012, must have reminded her of this when Sidney lamented his demise as a playwright: "Nothing recedes like success."
Telly Halkias can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Deathtrap" runs through Sept. 1 at Dorset Theatre Festival. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit dorsettheatrefestival.org