Upcoming play Deathtrap at the Varsity promises suspense, intrigue


Jared Treece | @bisalo

The Varsity Center in downtown Carbondale is a visual and performing art venue that holds different events and entertainment productions. Since COVID-19 hit, the theatre has been shut down, but has since move their performances and events online Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 in Illinois.

The Stage Company’s 40th season is in full swing as its third show Deathtrap goes through rehearsals.

The play holds the record for longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway.

“The premise of the play is that Sidney Bruhl, a successful playwright of Broadway thrillers, has hit a dry spell with a string of flops and shortage of funds,” Director Sarah Alley said.


Bruhl then receives a script in the mail from a student that attended a seminar he conducted and devises a plan with his wife to offer collaboration.

Matthew Hutchins, who plays Bruhl’s attorney Porter Milgram, said Deathtrap is thematically about greed and selfishness.

“It explores the depths to which people will stoop to get what they want, whether that be fame and recognition or simply money,” Hutchins said. “Greed and selfishness drive the choices of a lot of the characters.”

The play is about a murder but that’s all actress Abigail Wheetley was able to reveal about the plot in order to avoid spoiling anything for the audience.

Huchins said he prepares for rehearsal by reviewing lines in the script, making mental notes of his character’s intentions and purpose to the story.

“What purpose does his presence serve? How should he feel about certain situations, and how does that affect the story,” he said.

Alley prepared for the rehearsal process by reading the play, consulting and holding discussions with the creative team and watching the movie for reference, she said.


“Before performances begin we will have had about 25 rehearsals,” Alley said.

Antonio Salazar, an Instructor of Record and doctoral student in the SIU Department of History, said being selected to play the role of the titular character Sidney Bruhl was both an honor and a challenge.

“There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot, so the characters in the play must also have layers that may be understood in hindsight,” Salazar said.

He continuously looks for clues into exactly who Sidney ‘is’ both at the foundation of his character and in the dynamic construction of his motivations in this play, Salazar said.

He prepared for the role by reading the play to understand the plot and then re-reading it numerous times to dissect Sidney’s psyche and make all of the connections to the emotional and comedic opportunities, Salazar said.

Wheetley, who plays a psychic named Helga, said she prepares by studying because this is a play with lots of dialogue, quick footwork, stage combat, and lots of revealing moments.

She works on getting things committed to memory and getting it right the first time. Making sure the cast is guiding the audience on a journey of discovery is a priority for everyone involved, Wheetley said.

Salazar said the show has “sound construction, good dialogue, laughs in the right places and is highly commercial.”

“Which is why it was so successful on Broadway and ultimately why it was made into a movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeves,” Salazar said.

Alley said the theater group and the Varsity Center are keeping COVID-19 in mind.

“With the number of variant cases, some patrons may not feel comfortable attending. All patrons are required to be masked for entry to the performance,” Alley said.

Every audience member will need to gauge their own comfort level, Salazar said.

“As an actor, I just want to help The Stage Company fulfill its mission, to bring opportunities to experience live art, to the community,” Salazar said. “I am dedicated to performing to the best of my ability every single performance, regardless of whether we seat 15 or 150.”

Live theater is something cast and crew members all missed bitterly in 2020 and the cast is proud to be making the effort to bring it back, Wheetley said.

“Safety for our performers, our staff, and our audience is of the utmost importance and we’re comfortable with a smaller crowd or less ticket sales if people need to stay home out of caution or exposure,” Wheetley said. “Be safe, everyone!”

Performances are January 28-30 and February 3-6 at the Varsity Center in Carbondale.

Performance times on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays start at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday performances are at 2 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased on the Stage Company website www.stagecompany.org or at the Varsity Center starting one hour before the show.

They can also be purchased via the Showtix4U website:

Staff reporter Joel Kottman can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter: @JoelKottman To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.