Aug. 01--To hear Jay Vocque talk, one half expects him to start buying lottery tickets or betting on the ponies.
The Stockton native directs "Deathtrap" for the Community Theatre of Linden beginning Friday, and it's not the first time the 36-year-old feels he's hit a jackpot.
"I have shows on my bucket list that I want to direct, and 'Deathtrap' was at the top," Vocque said. "I'm lucky. I keep turning around and every show I want to direct, I'm getting to. I wanted to direct 'The Odd Couple' and I got to do that at Stockton Civic Theatre. I wanted to do this show and I'm getting to do it. I have to keep rewriting my bucket list."
Vocque saw a San Francisco production of "Deathtrap" when he was a Bear Creek High School student. As with other shows he liked, the future director bought a copy of the script. He also found the film.
"I fell in love with the movie, with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve," Vocque said. "Who couldn't love this show?"
Written by Ira Levin, who also wrote "Rosemary's Baby," "The Boys from Brazil" and "The Stepford Wives," "Deathtrap is about a successful playwright looking for his next big hit. When he finds his former student has written a script that will put him back on top, he plots to kill the student and claim the work as his own.
"How far would you go?" Vocque said the play asks. "In whatever career you're in, that theme resonates with everyone. If you become the No. 1 top dog in your field and suddenly a new hot dog comes along and takes away what was yours, how far are you willing to go to get it back?
"It's a core element of human nature that will resonate with an audience, male and female, young and old."
It resonated with Vocque's friend Rob Chase, who agreed to play the lead, Sidney Bruhl, at Vocque's request.
"I was, at first, like, 'Oh really? I'm enjoying the summer,' " said Chase, who is about to begin his 10th year as drama teacher at Linden High School.
"When he told me who was in the cast, it was like a giant reunion with people from different parts of my (theater) life. Then I started reading the script and it was pretty clever, pretty witty. By the time I finished the first scene, I didn't know what was going on, but I said, 'I've got to do this.' It is so well written. It's a very clever thriller."
Vocque, a fan of thrillers and film noir, brings his own vision and touches to this production, including background music.
"When I read a script, I think about what music should play behind certain things," Vocque said.
"Some theaters play music throughout an entire scene. I don't want to do that because I want the focus on the actors. But, during scene changes, music punctuates the feeling of a scene.
"Before the show, when an audience is reading the program and looking at the set, I want the music to get them in the mood for what they're going to watch."
Music is only one of Vocque's touches. Another is having a character reading a copy of "The Stepford Wives" because "there's a great picture of (author Ira Levin) on the back."
Vocque gushes about Levin's writing, but he also is excited about the cast he's assembled.
In addition to his friend and frequent collaborator Chase, Vocque cast Jeanine Michael as Sidney's wife, Myra; Hugo Martinez as Clifford Anderson, the student; Christina Chavez Nelson as the next-door-neighbor/psychic/comic relief Helga ten Dorp; and Shawn Carrington as Porter Milgrim, a friend and lawyer.
"It's wonderful," said Chase, 58, of being a performer rather than a director and teacher. "I've been complaining for years that I never have time to act any more, and that's my favorite part of theater. I direct, write, compose, set lights and all the things you have to do to be a high school theater teacher. When you act, you get to create a character, explore and create. It's fun. It's a joy.
"The sensation on stage is hard to describe. It's exciting, it's challenging and for myself, it's entertaining. It's fun creating a character that's not you, playing someone else. At 58, there aren't many chances to do that."
Vocque appreciates how rare local opportunities are for local theater enthusiasts, which is why he said he feels fortunate to be in Linden directing "Deathtrap."
"The theater fates have been kind to me," Vocque said.
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