- Purchase/rental options available:
Ira Levin's Deathtrap (1978) is a Broadway thriller about two men who must remain in the closet with two secrets: they are lovers, and they are murderers. With 1,809 performances on Broadway, hundreds of professional and amateur productions around the world, a Hollywood film version, and revivals continuing into the twenty-first century, Deathtrap is one of the most commercially successful plays ever written about same-sex lovers, although it is rarely included in the canon of "gay plays." While examining how this thriller employs the trope of queer villainy, this essay highlights the queerness of Levin's postmodern play and its potential to subvert the homophobic formula that conflates sexual deviance with murder. Instead of locating evil within a particular person, thus essentializing the sinister queer, this thriller identifies the closet, a space of entrapment for queer people, as an unsafe space where people die—a deathtrap. By engaging in a close reading of the text through theories of queer theatricality, along with an understanding of the cultural and historical contexts surrounding the play's production history, the essay examines how Deathtrap enacts anxieties and fantasies about the dangers of the closet in the post-Stonewall era, thus offering a productive and provocative site for exploring our perceptions of queerness—especially closeted queerness—as both exciting and dangerous, dramatic and terrifying.