In the market for spine-tingling chills and thrills this Halloween season? Look no further than your regional theaters, spinning tales on-stage in the coming weeks that would shock the most unshockable.
Marlborough’s Branch River Theatre will bring Ira Levin’s 1978 play, “Deathtrap,” to the Community House Nov. 1-3 and 8-10.
The comic thriller, by the writer of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives,” at the time was the fifth longest-running show on Broadway. It has since enjoyed more recent revivals.
CJ Cummings, director of Branch River Theatre’s production, called “Deathtrap” one of Levin’s best stage thrillers. It was also made into a film starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon.
Cummings was reading through a pile of scripts four years ago with the hope of directing at least one of them someday with Branch River Theatre when she came across “Deathtrap.” She knew it would be challenging, but it wouldn’t be the first time she rose to it, having directed Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap” with the company — this show marks her third (Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” was her second). She also remembered the heart-pounding experience she had the first time she saw it performed.
“It’s the most difficult show I’ve done. It requires everything I’ve got,” she said.
The play’s edge-of-your-seat suspenseful story follows Sidney Bruhl (played here by Paul Teitelman), a successful writer of Broadway thrillers struggling to overcome a series of failed plays and subsequent shortage of funding. He receives a possible break in his fortunes when he receives a script he knows would be a hit from a student (Ezra Fradkin) in the seminar he has been conducting.
So, he and his wife (Grace Marie Johnson) devise a plan. Suspense mounts steadily as the plot begins to twist and turn.
The action in “Deathtrap,” which is also a play-within-a-play, may be somewhat a reflection of the playwright’s own experience — it’s rumored Levin based the character of Sidney on himself. The audience gets the feeling the stakes are high for this character trying to regain his career.
Most of the play takes place in Sidney’s study, which Branch River Theatre has recreated true to the time period. There are no cell phones — there’s not even a television in the room.
There are no distractions needed. The story is riveting enough on its own.
The director has one rule: that those who know the ending to the story keep it to themselves.
“The buildup of tension has to be done just right,” she said.
You can also catch the second weekend of Shoot the Moon Theater Company’s fifth annual Halloween spectacular, this year it’s “American Gothic: An Anthology of Terrifying Tales,” Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 at Brattleboro’s Hooker-Dunham Theater. Artistic director Joshua Moyse wrote the script for the theater’s company-in-residence.
“It’s a nod to some of my faves,” said Moyse of “American Gothic.” He wrote the anthology in the tradition of “Dead of Night,” which he called “the first classic anthology of horror,” along with iconic scary films like “Creepshow” and “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” as well as television series such as “Black Mirror.”
“It’s really terror rather than horror,” he said.
For the last few years, the company, formed in 2015, has done literary adaptations of Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, Poe and H.G. Wells stories for the Halloween spectacular but never film or television. The company stages three shows a year, the Halloween spectacular being the bedrock.
The narrative frame for “American Gothic” focuses on Joe, who is called to a country house for a possible job. Once Joe arrives, however, he realizes that he’s been there many times before — in his dreams.
Other guests arrive with their own strange and terrifying tales: a man who is stalked by Death, a harrowing night babysitting, a ghostly game of hide and seek, a nostalgic trip to Lovers’ Lane and a ride on the ghastly Night Train.
“I thought there are all these urban legend campfire tales never really put on stage,” said Moyse, who added some “Halloween Easter eggs” for horror fans to find throughout the story.
Each scene lasts from five to 12 minutes and the entire show is 65.
“It’s a long one-act,” said Moyse. “There’s this nightmare dream sequence logic that goes through the piece. It doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle and end.”
For lovers of the genre, Moyse promises it more than delivers.
“It’s scary, it’s camp, it’s over-the-top entertaining,” he said.
Branch River Theatre performs Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” for six performances Friday, Nov. 1, and Saturday, Nov. 2, and Friday, Nov. 8, and Saturday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. with matinee performances Nov. 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12-$15 and can be ordered by calling 876-6131, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting branchrivertheatre.org.
Shoot the Moon Theater Company will present “American Gothic: An Anthology of Terrifying Tales” this Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2, as well as a special Halloween night performance Thursday, Oct. 31, all at 7:30 p.m., at Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St., Brattleboro. Tickets are $13 and can be ordered at shootthemoontheater.com.