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'Deathtrap': A Play Within A Play

MONMOUTH -- "Do you want to come strangle me?" Trevor Jackson said to his castmate Jessie Whitehead just before rehearsal July 24.Jackson and Whitehead were testing out a prop garrote -- a length of piano wire with a handle at either end -- for a scene in the latest production from Western Oregon University.The 1978 Broadway smash "Deathtrap" will debut at Western's Rice Auditorium Wednesday (today) at 7:30 p.m. and run until Saturday at 7:30 p.m.The comedy/thriller enjoyed rave reviews during its initial four-year run on Broadway, has seen many revivals and was turned into a movie in 1982."I would call it a modern classic," director David Janoviak said. "It's a popular show in colleges, community theaters and professional theaters."Consisting of only a five-person cast, "Deathtrap" places more weight on each actor to deliver the performance, Janoviak said.This added pressure coupled with the absence of school burdens is welcomed by the five veteran student actors, all but one of whom has acted in other WOU summer productions."I find that it gives me a nice chance to just focus on this," Erin Cunningham said. "This kind of character is my thing. I'm the Dutch psychic. You can't say Dutch psychic without getting some kind of reaction from people.""Deathtrap" is highly regarded for its many twists and turns and impeccable comedic timing.The story of the down-on-his-luck playwright who, in desperation to regain his prior fame, convinces a budding playwright to collaborate on a new production, is a play within a play.Because of the complexities and roller coaster nature of the play, Janoviak reminded his actors that they know more than the audience will."There's an `All About Eve' quality to this show: What extremes will somebody go to to maintain or arrive at fame?" Janoviak said. "It's a highly theatrical piece in that a lot of people are lying and acting in order to get what they want."For those familiar with previous incarnations of the play or the movie, one of the ever-present sources of tension is the myriad of weaponry on set.To procure the cache of medieval and modern weapons, Janoviak rented a majority of them from Weapons of Choice, a prop weapon provider in Napa, Calif.Weapons of Choice has provided prop weaponry for past WOU productions and has a collection specifically geared toward "Deathtrap" because of its popularity."There's going to be a ton of set dressing," Janoviak said. "These walls are going to be covered in antique weaponry: old medieval battle axes, 17th century pistols, maces and crossbows."The cast and crew labored for more than five weeks to bring the production to life. Janoviak even enlisted the help of some Western alumni to get the production ready for the stage.Nick Wilson,_x0015_ Class of 2012, designed the set and Cassie Malquist, also a 2012 WOU graduate, did much of the lighting design.Getting a cast of student actors together for a summer production can prove troublesome, but most of Western's student actors jump at the opportunity to work, school or no school."As an actor, any chance you have to cultivate your craft and your art ... if you're not seizing that opportunity it's impractical at best," Amanda Konstantin, who plays Myra Bruhl, said. On Stage What: "Deathtrap," a Western Oregon University summer theater production. Where: Rice Auditorium, 345 N. Monmouth Ave., Monmouth. When: Wednesday through Saturday; all showtimes at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets: $12 for general admission, $10 for seniors and $7 for students. For more information: Rice Auditorium Box Office, 503-838-8462, through Friday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

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