Ira Levin maintained two distinct careers – one as a novelist, the other as a playwright, and was one of very few writers to have enjoyed success in both of these customarily mutually-exclusive arenas. His Deathtrap is the fifth longest-running play in Broadway history – and nearly half of his stage output has been adapted for film and television.
Ira Levin on the set of Deathtrap, circa 1980 (Credit: Sy Friedman)
“I like Broadway audiences. They're my parents, my aunts and uncles and my sister in Westchester. I want to entertain them.” (Playbill, 1978)
While Levin's novels tend to skew toward "high concept" conceits, his plays tend to focus more intensely on human relations – the theater's bread and butter. His dramas delve deeply into the human psyche, exploring its thorny complications, vagaries – and occasional rot. And that's just his dramas. In addition to one-offs such as the spiritually-infused Cantorial, Levin also wrote outright stage comedies – the riotous Break A Leg, the bon mot-laden Critic's Choice, and – yes – his full-tilt Broadway musical, Drat! The Cat!
“I guess I'm something of masochist when you consider that I go on writing plays when I could make a living doing other things.” (Women's Wear Daily, 1977)
Critics often didn't know what to make of his works' tendency to bend the recognizable contours of conventional theater of the day into unfamiliar shapes: General Seeger's critique of the military-P.R. complex (some 15 years before the acclaimed "Friendly Fire"), Interlock's sly triumph of evil, Veronica's Room's monstrously-perverse dealings – even Deathtrap's comedy-thriller formula was a new arrival on the scene (to say nothing of its front-burnered metatheatricality).