With so many major theater companies in Austin, it’s easy to see why a smaller company like the Way Off Broadway Community Players might fade into the background. Located In the heart of Leander, Way Off Broadway is a small, under-funded group of thespians who in the past few years have been getting more and more impressive with every show. With their latest season, a slate of powerhouse plays, they look like they may finally get the attention of the Austin theater scene at large, and they kick it all off with with a fine production of Ira Levin’s twist-turny comedy/thriller, Deathtrap. It may not have all the subtlety and nuance we have come to expect from the piece, but the Way Off Broadway players are still able to maintain all the shock and bite of this taut thriller, and constantly keep the audience on their toes.
Gary Hahn as Sydney Bruhl is a down-on-his-luck playwright in search of his next smash, when he receives a manuscript in the mail from one his students, Clifford Anderson, played by Matt Norman. This manuscript is perfect, and just the ticket to get Sidney back on his feet and back into the public eye, so he hatches a plan. He invites Clifford to his cabin in the woods, where he, and his reluctant wife, played by Christien Bumpus, plan to do away with the young man and take all credit for his work. As soon as the young man arrives, however, things begin to take a much more menacing turn. Those who have never seen the play are in for plenty of startling revelations, and the actors, as well as director Lissa Satterfield, do a nice job of never giving away their secrets, making those shocking moments even more surprising.
Hahn is an imposing figure, but he plays his character as a kind of everyman, unassuming and not the least bit threatening, so when he finally shows his violent streak, it leaves the audience dumbfounded. This is all to the play’s benefit, because it leaves the audience wondering to just what lengths this man is willing go to get another hit. Norman is still green as an actor, and, despite his best effort, it shows in his performance. Constantly stumbling over lines, and never quite selling his monologues, it distracts from the task at hand, taking us out of the action. Karen Miller’s performance as Helga ten Dorp, a psychic neighbor of the couple, is also to be lauded, adding an extra element of comedy to cut through all the tension, giving the audience a chance to breathe and get in a few chuckles before jumping right back into the fray.
Despite some missteps, The Way Off Broadway Community Players are still able to bring all the surprises and shock of Levin’s original work to the Leander stage with a splendid lead performance and some solid comic backing from Miller. It may not live up to Sidney Lumet’s film version (and Hahn may not quite be Michael Caine), but it’s enough to push this little company into the world of the big boys downtown.