ON THE ROAD
Deathtrap, Ira Levin's perennial stage thriller is back on a national tour. Mixing up this potent and sophisticated cocktail of murder and mayhem is Elliott Gould, Mariette Hartley, Marilyn Cooper and Douglas Wert. Having opened in September in Stamford, Connecticut, the comedy thriller will be on the road through next April, with stops during Nov. and Dec. in Indiana, Florida, Arizona, California, Texas and Ohio.
The mystery took Broadway by storm when it opened in 1978, winning four Tony Awards including Best Play. Its proven track record as box-office gold stems from the fact it's a damn good yarn with amusing characters a washed-up mystery playwright, Sidney Bruhl (Gould); his long-suffering wife, Myra (Hartley); the psychic next door, Helga ten Dorp (Cooper); and the ambitious student Clifford Anderson (Wert), who writes a sure-fire hit that Stanley would kill to get his hands on. The comfy Connecticut cottage (here designed by James Noone) is deceptively calming. All the easier to frighten the audience out of its wits.
"These are tough shoes to fill," says Hartley, giving a compliment to Marian Seldes, who created the role of Myra Bruhl opposite John Wood on Broadway. "But I've got Joey [director John Tillinger] to help out, and Elliott is generous, and I grew up in Weston, Connecticut, so this has familiar ground for me."
The stage has also been familiar ground for the well-known film and Emmy-Award-winning personality. She started at the age of ten at the Silver Nutmeg Theatre in Westport, earning her stripes with such legendary stage luminaries as Eva Le Gallienne and directors John Houseman and Joseph Papp, before touring nationally in a Houseman production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, co-starring Will Geer and Bert Lahr.
Following a seven-year MGM contract, she made a series of television appearances, including the series, "A Peyton Place," and a co-hosting spot on "The CBS Morning Program." Most recently, she starred in the national tour of Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig and in the hit comedy Sylvia opposite Sarah Jessica Parker at Manhattan Theatre Club.
Given her long track record, she is asked what advice would she give her daughter, 18-year-old Justine who, along with her brother, 21-year-old Sean, is making noises about wanting to follow mom into show business. "Well. I'm not sure how much discipline and determination she has, and, God knows, you need both," says Hartley after a long pause. "But I tell her, make sure you love it; make sure it's something you have to do. I learned that from Eva Le Gallienne, a most remarkable and dedicated woman, very focused on her art, not on her career."
Hartley says she never had a problem with focus in the theatre. "In life and with men, yes, but never onstage," she says with a throaty laugh familiar to anyone who watched her on those Polaroid commercials with James Garner. "That was never a problem. What took some time for me to figure out was how to have a life outside my career, to find a way to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It came only after years of psychotherapy and deep soul-searching. But I'm feeling very good about my life now."
-- By Patrick Pacheco