This past weekend we said goodbye to the cast and crew of Wit and said hello to the first audience for Ira Levin’s fiendishly clever Deathtrap. As expected there were more than a few screams as the evening progressed. I’m happy to say the screams were from audience members and not the director. We hope to keep audiences guessing, jumping, and screaming well into November.
October is always a good month for a little mystery. There’s something about the chill in the air that seems to demand a chill to the spine. Shorter days, early dark, and everywhere the dying of summer makes our minds turn to darker themes. This is, after all, the month of Halloween and I noticed yesterday on my walk home from teaching a class at UNCG that skeletons were peeking out of a neighbor’s front yard and that a group of witches had taken up residence just down the street.
Truth be told, I think just about any month is a good time for a mystery. I didn’t really discover this guilty pleasure that is my love for crime fiction until I was already in grad school. Peter Jackson’s brilliant film Heavenly Creatures was playing at the York Square Cinema and since I was working a lot with Julie McKee, a great playwright from New Zealand, I decided to go over and check it out. I was blown away. The film is a bold, heartbreaking and visually stunning re-imagination of a brutal crime committed in New Zealand in the 1950’s. I learned later that week that one of the teenage murderers, Juliet Hulme, had changed her name, was living in the UK and writing mystery novels under the pen name Anne Perry. So, off I went– out of morbid curiosity– to Atticus Bookstore where I purchased The Carter Street Hangman. I figured meeting Victorian sleuths Thomas and Charlotte Pitt in their first mystery would be a onetime thing but I’ve read 27 of the 30 books, and from Anne Perry I’ve made my way to any number of unputdownable writers like Ruth Rendell, Karin Fossum, and the granddaddy of them all—Wilkie Collins.
I mainly listen to them now as audiobooks. After my stroke almost 5 years ago, I started walking much more. I find that a desperate need to discover just exactly whodunit is perfect motivation to add steps to my daily routine. I just downloaded Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling) new book last night at midnight and I may not stop walking for days to come. All of these mystery novels are a true escape, but they also are expert lessons in the art of plot and craft. Common Enemy was deeply influenced by the fact I was walking my way through Val McDermid’s Karen Pirie books. They were a crash course in how to plot.
As a writer, I’ve never attempted a stage thriller, but I want to. It’s an extremely tricky art form and common wisdom says that modern technology has made them nigh on to impossible. You can’t dail “m” for murder on your cell phone and DNA tests would be rather boring on the stage. But as a director, I love the art form. Triad Stage has produced many of the great stage thrillers from Angel Street to Wait Until Dark and I hope there will be many more opportunities to scare you and perplex you. Witness for the Prosecution anyone? Or how about my favorite, the ever creepy Bad Seed.
Deathtrap is one of the best. I’d love to tell you all sorts of secrets about how Bryan Conger and our wonderful company of actors, designers and production staff are putting it together, but I just don’t want to ruin the surprise. The great joy of a good mystery is a delicate mix of chills, clues, red herrings, reversals, and unexpected events. As I write this, the company is in rehearsal in the theater tightening the screws to make the tension even stronger.
I think there’s nothing more elemental to the incredible human experience that is live theater than the shared emotions that performance creates in an audience who have been united by their experience of the story. Screams, tears, laughter and, yes, even anger can remind us that we’re not so different from each other when we notice the people next to us—strangers, perhaps, until tonight—experiencing the same thing. I think that’s what I love most about this thing I do. At its best theater calls us to be human, to be fully alive, to be engaged with our self and with others, and to recognize how much alike we really are when we break through the artificial dividers and seek the essence of what is human.
Preston Lane, Founding Artistic Director
P.S. – There are so many wonderfully talented professionals working on every Triad Stage production. See what our resident fight choreographer Jim Wren had to say about the art of stage combat and working on this production in a recent video.