Dial “M” for Murder is one of those theatrical stalwarts that every theater company tackles at one time or another. It’s an extremely popular piece, which is surprising, since it is also one that is very difficult to get right. The script shows its age; it’s creaky and often slow, and requires strong performances and creative directorial touches to keep it interesting.
Clarksville Little Theater mostly gets it right with their current production, thanks mainly to some very solid acting and lighting effects, enhanced by a fantastic set and period-correct costumes. This is especially impressive considering the show’s troubled production history: Due to an emergency the original director had to drop out halfway through rehearsals, allowing actor Andrew K. McGill to make his helming debut.
Originally performed as a BBC television play before transferring to London’s West End, and then to Broadway (all three productions in 1952), Dial “M” became legendary when Alfred Hitchcock filmed it two years later. It is an early example of the “howcatchem” genre of murder mystery (later popularized by the Columbo television series) in which the audience knows full well whodunit; the suspense is derived by figuring out how they will get caught.
The story focuses on has-been tennis star Tony Wendice, living off the graces of his wealthy wife, Margot. When his plot to have her killed goes horribly awry, he switches gears and manages to frame her for murder.
Jason Potts lays on the oily charm as Tony in what is undoubtedly the show’s best performance. Adrielle Perkins is also spot-on as Margot, creating a real flesh-and-blood person as opposed to simply playing the victim. Director McGill makes the most of his brief turn as the ill-fated hired killer, and Larry Chaney is completely believable as the smarter-than-he-seems detective on the case.
The set (designed and built by ten credited persons) is really something, believably conveying a 1950s-era London apartment for the affluent; and Mr. Chaney’s moody lighting design truly builds suspense during many dimly-lit moments in the play.
On the downside, the show does have some pacing problems, with far too many dramatic pauses and a lot of air between the lines. And it is in those moments that the age and dryness of the script really come through. Also some music would have helped set the mood, especially during the show’s nearly wordless murder sequence. But if you can overlook those shortcomings, the plot should hold you in suspense.
Overall, the production overcame its shortcomings and created a solid atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, a promising debut by a new director on the local theater scene.
Dial “M” For Murder
Featuring Adrielle Perkins, Matthew Browning, Jason Potts, Andrew K. McGill, Larry Chaney and Howard Whitman.
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner