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“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin: What Lurks in the Background Essay


When comedy is mixed with a detective story and the elements of a thriller are added to the recipe, taking the eyes off the highlight of the show and looking closer into the settings is practically impossible. However, it cannot be argued that these settings add considerably to the characters and their development, the storyline and the atmosphere altogether.

A very graphic example of such interaction between the settings of the play and the rest of its elements is Ira Levin’s masterpiece commonly known as Deathtrap, or Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts. Despite the fact that the setting and the costumes never change throughout the entire play, this persistence in setting and costumes affect greatly the scenes, the themes and the characters.

When talking about the recurring themes in Deathtrap, one must mention the one motif that the entire play is devoted to, i.e., a play within a play. Indeed, the key twist of the detective story revolves around a play written by one of the lead character’s students, Clifford. The setting, therefore, serves as a perfect backdrop for the intrigue to be developed.

Since the characters never leave Sidney’s den, the focus remains on the fact that the play written by Clifford, which keeps the reader within the play-within-a-play virtual reality.

Moreover, such details as the copies of Xeroxes mentioned in the phone talk, the fact that the very first scene opens with Sidney in his den, pretending to be reading a play (Levin 3), etc., keep the reader’s attention nailed to the fact that (s)he is reading a play about a play.

However, it is not only the plot that nails the reader’s eye on the details of the play. Characters are also a lot of fun; very enjoyable to watch, especially when they interact, the people in the play definitely leave an impression. The psychic lady, whose “sixth sense” leads her to Sidney’s house, is, of course, a parody on the popular “psychic” cliché; as weird as she is, she makes a wonderful contrast to the rest of the characters.

The twist with Sydney, Myra and Clifford comes as completely unexpected; however, as soon as the shock values drop down a few notches, the reader feels that Sydney and Clifford being lovers makes the story darker and, for that matter, more entertaining.

The last, but definitely not the least, the scene with the arrow from a crossbow, which parodies every single cliché in a book – in a detective book, that is – is outright hilarious. Sydney and Clifford stabbing each other in turn must be the most confusing scene, yet it mocks so many stories in which the seemingly defeated villain rises to deliver the final blow that it automatically becomes comedic gold.

Therefore, Deathtrap offers a fantastic example of how a good comedy can be turned into a brilliant comedy with the help of an efficient use of a single setting and costuming. Still, it must be admitted that most of the humor and drama in Deathtrap comes not from the original settings, but from the characters with distinct personalities being put into these settings and wearing these costumes.

Therefore, it is impossible to consider the setting apart from the characters and the storyline. Even though there is only one setting, it still offers a unique environment, which works not only for the comic relief, but also for the plot, the themes and character development. Working each character off in an individual manner, the setting of Sydney’s den is a perfect spot for a perfect comedy.

Works Cited

Levin, Ira. Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts. New York, NY: Dramatic Play Service. 1978. Print.

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"“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin: What Lurks in the Background." IvyPanda, 4 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/deathtrap-by-ira-levin-what-lurks-in-the-background/.

1. IvyPanda. "“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin: What Lurks in the Background." July 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/deathtrap-by-ira-levin-what-lurks-in-the-background/.


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IvyPanda. "“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin: What Lurks in the Background." July 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/deathtrap-by-ira-levin-what-lurks-in-the-background/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin: What Lurks in the Background." July 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/deathtrap-by-ira-levin-what-lurks-in-the-background/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) '“Deathtrap” by Ira Levin: What Lurks in the Background'. 4 July.

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