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Theater to perform long-hoped-for play 'Deathtrap'

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From left, Nick Taglieri, as Clifford, struggles with a pair of handcuffs during a rehearsal of “Deathtrap” at Winchester Little Theatre, with Rich Adams as Sidney and Rhonda Kisner as his wife Myra. — Josette Keelor/Daily

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Taglieri, left, plays the student of famed writer Sidney. — Josette Keelor/Daily

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Ann Prokopchak, right, portrays Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorpe. — Josette Keelor/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Winchester Little Theatre's upcoming thriller has it all. It has comedy, like in a scene with typists dueling in a battle of words to the tune of Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter." It has eccentric characters, like the man who jokes to his wife that they could steal a potentially award-winning play and pass it off as their own; all they would need to do is kill the young playwright. It has terror, like when a character murdered in a previous scene breaks into the couple's house and attacks them.

Based on the stage play by Ira Levin and the 1982 movie starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, "Deathtrap" offers a string of surprises that the cast say will keep audiences guessing.

Last year WLT planned to offer the show, but when they couldn't secure the rights to it, they substituted comedic mystery "The 39 Steps" instead.

"I've been trying to do it for two years," said Director Sally Anderson. "It think it's one of the best thriller shows on stage.

"This one I've always loved," she said.

In her third acting experience and her second speaking role, Rhonda Kisner's portrayal of Myra comes on the heels of her part as a shadow in "The 39 Steps," which she called a "funny little silly" play.

"Deathtrap," not as much mystery as thriller, is totally different, she said.

"My character is married to Sidney," she said. "[She,] for all intents and purposes, is very content in her marriage. She wants him to be successful, she is his biggest cheerleader."

"Sidney is a playwright," said actor Rich Adams. "He has written one major iconic thriller." That, however, was a long time ago, and Sidney is wanting for another brilliant idea to advance his career.

"He's sort of resting on his laurels so to speak," said Adams, who is no stranger to the WLT stage. A longtime professional actor, he made his WLT debut years ago in "Witness for the Prosecution." More recently he played George Bailey in 2008's "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play."

Of Sidney, he said, "It's a gargantuan type of role." Besides learning a massive number of lines attributed mostly to him and actor Nick Taglieri, the role requires Adams and the others to learn stage combat.

"There's a good bit of physical stuff," Adams said. "Stage combat is its own little art form. It's akin to dance."

Taglieri, who plays Clifford, agreed, "It's like a dance. If you're taking the hit, you're leading the dance."

A huge part of the play, Anderson said, is practicing the fight scenes with fight choreographer Jeff Schwartz, who also plays lawyer Porter Milgrim.

"I designed the set with the fact of needing certain spaces," Anderson said. The stairs required room for fighting safely, the floor required the absence of too many obstacles.

A fireplace that supposedly is real, she said, is actually a prop.

Ann Prokopchak, who plays the neighbors' visiting Dutch psychic Helga ten Dorp, said "Deathtrap" was a new experience for her. Not having acted since junior high school almost 50 years ago, she said she returned to the stage after recently retiring.

"It's difficult to find the right demand for someone in your 60s," she said.

"I think I found the hardest thing was the blocking," which, she said, requires precision of speaking her lines while attending to cues from the crew or other actors.

"And I have a Danish accent, so it's another element," Prokopchak said. "She speaks nonstandard English with an accent."

"Every person I've ever done, I swear, has had an accent," she said.

As Clifford, Taglieri said, "I am the young promising student of Sidney's,

"He's very smart, quite evil actually," he said. "He's very charming and wiley."

Having to play the role of someone with two separate and distinct personalities has taken some finagling, but Taglieri said the process has been fun.

"It just took a little while to find it," he said, calling Clifford a mix of Dudley Do-Right from The "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" and Dick Dastardly, a Hanna-Barbera villain.

In his first role at WLT, Taglieri is new to the Winchester area but not to acting. Currently shooting an indie film in Pittsburgh called "Captain Happy Sun," the Penn State graduate has had a host of roles leading up to Clifford.

Still, he said, it's a new challenge. With mainly musicals lining his road to Winchester, Taglieri said this will be one of his first dramatic roles.

As for Adams, most of his acting experience was years ago, his recent history at WLT having focused mainly on scene design and lighting.

"This," he said, "is really my kind of return to acting."

Winchester Little Theatre, at 315 W. Boscowen St. in Winchester, will perform "Deathtrap" from Aug. 31 through Sept. 15, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket prices are $18.75 for adults, $16.75 for seniors and $14.50 for students through college age. For more information, call 662-3331 or visit wltonline.org.

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