Dear Ottawa Little Theatre,
Congratulations on your 100th season! With an all-star line-up of remounted shows from all different decades, you show no signs of stopping. However, I have a tiny bone to pick with you. Often criticized for producing shows solely geared towards an… ahem…”elder” demographic, director John Collins’ Deathtrap, written by Ira Levin, is no different. This production does not stray from the tried, tested, and true conventions that community theatre has become associated with, though, this is not to say that this necessarily negates a terrible performance: only a mediocre one, which, I think, is worse because it is forgettable. Your company is such a pillar in the Ottawa theatre scene that I honestly believe the OLT can afford to start pushing the boundaries a little further.
Deathtrap was written in 1978 and falls under the tricky genre, not seen or performed very often these days, known as a comedic thriller. The story focuses on the stuck-in-a-rut playwright Sydney Bruhl, played by Lawrence Evenchick, who, through a hilarious series of murderous plots, tries to get his hands on the new play, aptly named Deathtrap, written by one of his former students Clifford Anderson, played by Dan DeMarbre. In the end, Clifford’s script proves to be to die for…literally, and the piece finishes in a blackout leaving two characters, best left unnamed, on stage locked in a mortal combat and the audience left wondering whose hands Deathtrap will fall into next.
Set designer Mike Heffernan uses 100% of the generous stage space in his construction of the multi-level barn turned colonial office, complete with antique weapons on the walls and a giant cyclorama giving his world a sky to play with. The costume design, by Jeanne Gauthier, is practical and appropriate for both the time period and the characters, though not exciting. The sound, designed by Lindsay Wilson, could have been tighter as some weapons seemed to make noise and others did not. David Magladry’s lighting design also seemed inconsistent, with some exceptional lightening effects in the second act, but then later on using some sort of amber wash that somehow made the actors look sickly.
The men command the stage in this show, despite a few line flubs, producing admirable performances from both DeMarbre and Evenchick. Myra Bruhl, played by Diana Franz, offers little emotion but proves that she is the most off-book of the bunch. Angela Pelly and Gordon Walls, playing psychic Helga ten Dorp and attorney Porter Milgrim respectively, offer the production some much needed comic relief, though these moments are few and far between.
The real concern with this show, and what seems to be a disturbing trend at the OLT, is the lack of creativity shown, especially in regards to directing. With little to no overriding directorial concept, it wasn’t clear what Collins was trying to say with this piece. The blocking was also questionable with the action happening on extreme stage left or stage right and not a whole lot happening in between. This was a major problem in creating any of the tension that this script so desperately depends on and for the director to go so far as to mention on site defibrillators in the program, I’m not sure anyone’s heart pumped past a skip.
In my opinion I think what the OLT offers to the theatre community is great. It provides consistent and bankable productions that have a dependable audience to perform to. They make no qualms about producing theatre that is crafted solely by volunteer actors, directors, and designers and offer fantastic opportunities to young artists who want to get a foot in the door. My biggest fear is that the OLT, feeling fairly secure, has become too concerned with catering to their subscribers and that they’ve begun to sacrifice some of the quality that should come with creating the “best in popular, entertaining, community theatre for enjoyment, participation and learning” as stated by your company’s own mandate.
So here’s my challenge to you, Ottawa Little Theatre: after 100 seasons, you are more than well enough established to try something a little different. I urge you to step outside of your box and incorporate some new, fresh, Canadian and local theatre into your repertoire. Reach out to younger audiences, create theatre that’s worth talking about, and allow for a little more artistic freedom! Combined with the outstandingly inclusive atmosphere patrons have come to know and love from the OLT, I guarantee you will keep audiences coming back for another 100 seasons.
(The more than reasonable ticket prices don’t hurt either!)