From seeing presents lined up under the Christmas tree to meeting up again with family you rarely have the chance to visit, there’s a warm familiarity to the thrills of the holiday season. The joys of the holiday season are safe, predictable and often the subject of many theater productions this time of year.
Theatre Three is inviting audiences to see a show with thrills of a far more dangerous and unpredictable variety when it presents its latest production, “Deathtrap.”
Known as the longest-running comedy-thriller to take the stage on Broadway, “Deathtrap” is a show about playwright Sidney Bruhl’s attempt to reclaim his fame after years without a successful credit to his name. Upon receiving a brilliant script titled “Deathtrap” from one of his students, the young playwright Clifford Anderson, Bruhl plots to steal the show’s credits by whatever means necessary, with his wife Myra as a disinclined accomplice.
“The play is beautiful, so it all weaves very well,” Ben Stegmair, who plays Clifford Anderson, said of how “Deathtrap” successfully blends elements of thrillers and dark comedies throughout the script in telling the tale of the lengths its characters will go to find success.
Stegmair described his own character as “very reactionary” and someone who idolizes the show’s lead, Sidney Bruhl, played by SMU Theatre Division Chair and Head of Acting Professor Blake Hackler.
“He is very persistent about creating the perfect play and being the best playwright that he can be,” Stegmair said of Clifford Anderson.
A voice actor as well as a veteran of Shakespeare Dallas, Stegmair expressed his excitement for joining the production and having the opportunity to work with Theatre Three and the talented cast assembled for the production.
“Blake is a spectacular actor,” Stegmair said, explaining that he met Hackler while studying at SMU despite being unable to take one of his classes due to his course schedule as a transfer student.
He described a scene in the show where he gets to have a long, back-and-forth exchange with Hackler as one of his favorites, calling him a great professor, teacher and performer.
“In that scene, you give him something and he will take it and will make something spectacular of it,” Stegmair said. “I’m absolutely blown away, and that’s why I love doing that scene with him.”
Similarly, Stegmair singled out the opportunity to work with Christie Vela, a fellow veteran of Shakespeare Dallas who stars in “Deathtrap” as Helga Ten Dorp, as another source of excitement.
“This is my fifth show I’ve worked with her in the span of like three-and-a-half years,” Stegmair said. “She’s usually directing me. She’s the reason why I’m able to work in Dallas, so I have a very small scene with her, but still, that’s a good full-circle moment as well.”
Coming closely off the heels of performing in two Shakespearean classics as Edmund, under Vela’s direction in “King Lear,” and Proteus in “Two Gentleman of Verona,” Stegmair described some of the difficulties he’s faced in moving from the eloquent verbiage of Shakespeare to more straightforward dialogue that focuses on the subtext between what each character says.
“A good acting teacher told me a long time ago that if you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything, so it hasn’t been immensely difficult, but it has been a bit of a shock, especially in the first week (of rehearsals),” Stegmair said.
He described how he read the script for “Deathtrap” multiple times in order to find the “facts of the script” and discover what his character and those around him think in each scene. The process allowed him to be able to “play the action” of the story and not end up caught in the play’s web of deceit himself.
“That was a big stepping stone for this character,” Stegmair said. “A lot of times for this character, when you’re preparing for it, you really got to do your warm-ups…because when you’re playing something that’s a little bit more naturalistic, it’s easy to trip over your words.”
Something that’s helped Stegmair in his stage acting has been his lead voiceover role as Adonis in the anime series “The Kingdoms of Ruin.”
“Voiceover has definitely helped me figure out how to make my voice sound more natural,” Stegmair said, even though he feels as if the two different forms of acting can sometimes be an “antithesis” of one another given the instantaneous nature of reading a script and immediately performing the line in a voiceover role compared to the re-reading of the script for a play.
Nonetheless, the immense vocal work required for acting in two shows a day has been a strain in itself on Stegmair.
“This is the dream to do voiceover during the day and perform plays during the night, and now that I’m living the dream, I’m realizing how hard it is to keep my voice able and ready,” Stegmair said, crediting the production team at Coppell-based Crunchyroll, the licensers of the English translation of “The Kingdoms of Ruin,” with giving him the support necessary to handle the “tremendous strain” of performing in two extensive vocal roles a day.
Stegmair’s hard nightly work will culminate with a run of performances of “Deathtrap” at Theatre Three through December 31. He hopes that “Deathtrap” will shock audiences with the twists and turns of its script and leave them wanting to see more plays similar to the production.
“I love all kinds of plays, all kinds of drama, but these plays are the ones that really stay close to my heart, and I would love to be a part of more of them,” Stegmair said.
Tickets are available online for the Theatre Three production of “Deathtrap” for December 9 through December 31. For more information, visit https://www.theatre3dallas.com/.
This interview has been edited for clarity.