“[Title of Show];” and “Deathtrap” – March 25, 2015

It’s a striking coincidence.

You don’t have to be the writer of stage thrillers to see it.

Maybe it’s the work of some devious theatrical conspiracy.

How else to explain two shows opening in the North Bay the same weekend, each one a play about people writing a play about people writing a play. And just keep things interesting, one of these self-referential theatrical endeavors is a musical.

“[Title of Show],” and yes, that’s the title of the show, was written in 2004 by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, who proposed to the New York Musical Theater Festival that they be allowed to write a musical about the process of writing that very same musical. Eventually, with the addition of two actresses named Susan and Heidi, “[Title of Show],” with brackets, did actually appear in the festival, followed by an off-Broadway run and after a period when it looked like the show’s life was finally over, it ended up on Broadway. And yes, all of that is in the show, too.

And now, it’s in San Rafael, presented by Marin Onstage at Belrose Theater, this loopy, tuneful love story to the creative process is directed by Carl Jordan, and features Fernando Siu and Phillip Percy Williams as Jeff and Hunter, and Abbey Lee and Amanda Morando as Susan and Heidi. Justin Pine appears too, as Larry, the guy at the piano, because evidently every would-be playwright has his own accompanist hanging out in the corner of his apartment, just in case inspiration strikes.

It really is a show about the creation of the show it’s about, which gets a little weird at times, as we watch the writers writing the show in front of us. At one point, Jeff asks Susan why she hasn’t said anything in a while, and she responds by saying, “Because this is the first line you’ve written for me to say in a while.”

The songs are, for the most part, all about writing songs, but also – and this is why “[Title of Show]” is such a great show – the songs get to the heart of what it’s like to try and create something: the insecurities and doubts, the discoveries that come out of nowhere, the thrills and joys of hitting the mark when you finally do.

Energetically and sympathetically performed by the entire cast, who bring their own unique personalities to the characters indelibly established by the original Jeff, Hunter, Susan and Heidi, this is a show for anyone whose ever dreamed of doing something really hard, and knows the heartache of failure and the sheer, ecstatic wonder of success.

There’s one more weekend.

And running through April 5th is Spreckels Theater Company’s production of “Deathtrap.” Written by Ira Leven and directed with nastiness and glee by David Yen, ‘Deathtrap’ is a two-act, five-character play about a blocked playwright discover a two-act, five character play called “Deathtrap.”

There is little I can say about it without spoiling the many surprises, so let me just say that the cast of five drive the play with mounting energy, balancing the mounting tension with plenty of authentic comedy. Some of the murder weapons hanging on the wall are a little conspicuously rubbery and non-threatening, but everything else in this show is sharp, loaded, and entertainingly lethal.

And there you have it: Two shows about people creating shows.

You should consider showing up for one for both.

You won’t regret it.

I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.

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