Aside from distinguishing itself as the longest-running comedy-thriller in Broadway history, Ira Levin's "Deathtrap" may be one the cleverest plays within a play ever.
Director Edward Brennan brings a keen sense of humor and timing to the Hampton Theatre Company reprise of the Tony-nominated 1978 classic (remade into a 1982 hit movie).
The play within -- also titled "Deathtrap" -- exists only on paper and in the competitive minds of the author and his mentor. We hear only bits and pieces of it read aloud and enacted in a fight scene.
Sidney Bruhl is a formerly successful author of stage thrillers with whom a onetime student, Clifford, has entrusted his manuscript. As Sidney observes, it's "a thriller in two acts, one set, five characters and laughs in all the right places." Levin is describing the very play we're seeing unfold in startling twists.
It would be criminal to reveal much beyond the basic premise. So we'll just say that Sidney invites Clifford to drop by his country home to discuss the young man's promising play. Clifford discloses that he's brought the only carbon of the play with him -- this is still the typewriter era. The admission unnerves Sidney's wife, Myra, who fears her husband may be capable of crimes he creates on paper.
Andrew Botsford presents a Sidney who's both acerbic enough to give us pause -- how far would he go to steal a play? -- but civilized enough to make mayhem seem unlikely. Except for all those macabre weapons -- many from his previous plays -- prominently displayed on Sean Marbury's elaborate man-cave set. In an amusing touch, Sidney observes that Michael Caine might play him in the movie. (He did.)
As Clifford, Tristan Vaughan keeps us guessing with the gullible air of an admirer and the caution of a near-stranger. Rosemary Cline as Myra works both angles, protecting Clifford by refusing to leave the room while pumping him for information that might cut Sidney in on a slice of the "Deathtrap" pie.
The set designer's mother, Diana Marbury, plays a psychic neighbor brimming with eccentricity and accented worldliness, while John Steele Jr. as Sidney's attorney supplies a dose of dullness and a necessary touchstone to sanity.
The play is Sean Marbury's debut as set designer/chief carpenter, which was his father, Peter's realm before his death in 2009.
WHAT "Deathtrap," by Ira Levin
WHEN|WHERE Thursday night at 7, Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Jan. 29, Quogue Community Hall, 25 Jessup Ave.
INFO $25, $23 seniors, $10 students (except Saturdays); hamptontheatre.org, 631-653-8955