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Who: Imagination Theater
Where: El Dorado County Fairgrounds, 100 Placerville Drive in Placerville
When: Friday, Sept. 6 through Sept. 26
Cost: Tickets are $15. Opening night, Thursday shows and groups tickets are $12
As he debuts his directing skills, Grant Stellflug isn’t shy about jumping right in — presenting a local production of the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway.
Imagination Theater will perform “Deathtrap,” opening Friday, Sept. 6 and running through Sept. 26, at the playhouse on the El Dorado County Fairgrounds.
The 33-year-old Placerville resident, a longtime actor, said he is excited about his first try at directing, having a long-standing affinity for “Deathtrap,” which was written by Ira Levin in 1978 and has entertained audiences with plenty of plot twists and a clever play-within-a-play.
“I fell in love with this show the first time I read it in high school and I wanted to direct it ever since,” said Stellflug, who moved to Placerville while in the sixth grade, then lived in various locations around the country before returning to El Dorado County in 2003.
Fans of Imagination Theater, which delights crowds from its cozy venue at the county fairgrounds, may have noticed Stellflug most recently when he had the lead role in “Run for Your Wife.” He portrayed John Smith in that successful production.
Now he is happy to relinquish the acting to a talented cast of five, all of whom he described as taking on “the lead role.”
Philip Pittman plays the part of Sidney Bruhl, Erika Maruri is Myra Bruhl, Jonathan Rutz becomes Clifford Anderson, Lori Whittle is in the role of Helga ten Dorp and Paul Sobelman portays Porter Milgrim.
Taking his seat in the director’s chair, Stellflug and his team will tell the story of Sidney Bruhl, himself a once successful playwright, who finds himself in the throes of writer’s block following a series of phenomenal flops. Sidney gets his hands on a potential gem of a play that his student, Clifford Anderson, has penned and he knows it’s going to be a hit.
Saying he is only kidding, Sidney tells his wife Myra that he plans to kill Clifford and steal his student’s work. The couple invites the unwitting Clifford into their home, ostensibly to discuss “improvements” to the script.
From that groundwork, the two-act play, presented on a single set, grabs the audience’s rapt attention and never lets go as the thriller unfolds.
During a recent rehearsal of “Deathtrap,” the cast was careful not to reveal too much, as the drama becomes more and more intricate, with other characters growing wise to Sidney’s actual intent — which is now to make his intended murder of Clifford appear as self-defense.
However, Clifford has grown suspicious as well, and has a few tricks up his sleeve.
“We don’t want to give anything away,” said Director Stellflug as Sidney and Myra handled a cache of deadly and sinister looking knives and swords on one wall of the theater.
During the rehearsal, and despite the dark theme of “Deathtrap,” it was clear from the banter and interplay that the actors have fun presenting this work, known as one of the biggest hits on Broadway. It ran for four years and nearly 1,800 performances.
“Deathtrap” was nominated in 1978 for a Tony Award for Best Play.
Asked why he is placing himself in the proverbial hot seat, directing a play instead of acting, Stellflug said, “I do it because I love the whole process from start to finish. It’s really amazing to see the progression in each and every rehearsal.”
Stellflug said he has “always been drawn to the theater,” taking drama classes all four years of high school. He said small-town, community theater holds a particular appeal for him.
“It’s great because the people involved all want to be there,” he explained. “They are from all different backgrounds, from doctor to teacher to bus driver. And they have all put forth tremendous effort in creating something special.
“Each actor (in ‘Deathtrap’) really impressed me at auditions,” he added. “I was able to see how they could all pull together and have the ability to play off one another to create some nice character dynamics.”
The fledgling director said he sees his role as being an intermediary between the actors themselves, and also between the actors and the audience.
“I try to do my best to guide them (actors) and watch from the outside, as each actor concentrates on their part. In interacting with the other characters onstage, I get to see the whole picture and make sure that the audience can hear and see and understand what they’re trying to deliver.”
Stellflug said the play runs about two hours, with an intermission, at Imagination Theater. The community theater company has been putting on shows in Placerville since 2000. The tiny theater seats 180.
The set design for “Deathtrap” is by Virgil Toothaker and the costumes are by Elizabeth Zangari.
Despite the play being described as a dark comedy, Stellflug promises theater-goers “plenty of thrills and laughter.”
Produced by Peter Wolfe, Stellflug said the local performance of the renowned play is greatly benefited by the longtime producer’s influence.
“Peter Wolfe has been integral in his assistance, both as co-owner of the theater as well as with good knowledge of weaponry, as it plays a big part in the show.”
“Deathtrap” will be performed at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and the first two Saturdays, with matinées at 2 p.m. on the last two Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets are $15. Opening night, Thursday shows and groups tickets are $12.
Tickets may be purchased through brownpapertickets.com or by calling the box office at 530-642-0404.