BEMIDJI-Geoff Stephenson first saw the play "Deathtrap" on the big stage at the Music Box Theater in New York City. He was a college student at the time, and was mesmerized by the lead actor who played Sidney Bruhl.

Some 35 years later, Stephenson gets to play that role himself. He'll be on stage Friday night when the Paul Bunyan Playhouse opens its second production at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.

"I always knew I wanted to do the role someday," Stephenson said, "but of course I was a college kid and the role of Sidney Bruhl, the playwright, is in his 50s. Now I'm in my 50s."

The 57-year-old is in his second season with Bemidji's professional summer stock company. A lecturer of applied voice, and musical theatre history and literature at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Stephenson is one of five cast members in "Deathtrap," a play within a play written by Ira Levin in 1978 with many plot twists and quite a few laughs.

"I fell in love with it immediately," Stephenson said. "It was so funny and yet so horrifying. You don't know what's going to happen. I'm not going to give anything away because the surprises come out of nowhere."

Here's what we can tell you:

Sidney Bruhl, a successful mystery writer, is struggling to overcome writer's block when he receives a script from a student in one of his writing seminars-a thriller which Sidney instantly recognizes as a potential Broadway hit. Sidney devises a plan to collaborate with the student, and it is here the plot begins to twist and turn with devilish consequences.

Artistic Director Jim Williams has known Stephenson for more than 20 years, and knew he was the right person to play Sidney. Stephenson earned regional and national recognition, winning the Mark Twain Comedy Award at the 2001 Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C., and has performed many roles with companies in New York City, Chicago, Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., and Ohio.

"He brings some heft, brings some experience to this," Williams said.

Playhouse audiences might remember Stephenson from 2018 for his roles at Colonel Mustard in "Clue the Musical" and Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray." He will portray Mr. Mushnik, the flower shop owner, in "Little Shop of Horrors," which runs July 5-13.

Other cast members in "Deathtrap" are Alana LaBissoniere as Sidney's wife, Myra; Sam Scherrer as the student Clifford Anderson; Alexondrea Thong Vanh as the psychic Helga ten Dorp; and Paul Icenogle as Porter Milgrim, Sidney's attorney.