Pierrot Productions stages this 1978 Ira Levin thriller.

By: Matt Smith
   Deathtrap, Ira Levin’s 1978 murder-mystery, ran on Broadway for 1,793 performances — and a few thousand homicides — over four and a half years. Pierrot Productions is currently offering its own fun, chilling version at the Kelsey Theatre in West Windsor.
   The story, as you may remember, revolves around a play within a play. The characters are dead set on creating — or destroying — a surefire-hit, also called Deathtrap. Like Levin’s Deathtrap, the fictional Deathtrap is a tightly structured two-act affair, perfect because "everything happens in one room and with five characters," as the evening’s mantra goes.
   The five characters: college professor Sidney Bruhl, a dried-up playwright desperate for another successful thriller and to keep a secret or two from his wealthy wife, Myra; Clifford Anderson, Sidney’s devoted student and an aspiring playwright; the neighborhood German psychic, Helga ten Dorp, who comes running over every time she senses "much pain"; and the semi-clueless barrister, Porter Milgrim.
   The Kelsey cast lends the right amount of wink-wink two-dimensionality to the characters. Lonnie McCullough is a standout as Sidney. With his square-jawed self-confidence and vacant eyes, he is eerily in control and just plain creepy. Carol Radziwon colors Myra with a bit of humanity, but also enough deviousness to be capable of a few secrets of her own. Mark Violi plays Clifford with collegiate enthusiasm, and ups the ante when his character turns sinister. Liz Moore and Paul G. Saunders do nice supporting work as Helga ten Dorp and Porter Milgrim, respectively.
   Director Ruth Markoe keeps the evening moving straight ahead, getting the scares in all the right places, particularly in Act I. This two-decades-old Deathtrap no longer has "laughs in all the right places," as Sidney claims, with references to Merv Griffin and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon going by the wayside — but a trifle. Pete LaBriola’s set is spot-on 1970s, a split-level with wood-paneled walls that are scary in their own right.
Deathtrap continues at the Kelsey Theatre, Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, through Feb. 29. Performances: Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2, 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Tickets cost $12, $10 seniors/students/children. For information, call (609) 584-9444. On the Web: www.kelseyatmccc.org