Dial “M” For Murder
By Frederick Knott
Produced and Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
Brian Bowman, Cary Wiger (front), and Tina Jo Wallace in Dial “M” For Murder. Photo courtesy of Derby Dinner.
Dial “M” for Murder is a popular choice for regional acting troupes; it seems that every theater company tackles it at one time or another. It’s a difficult show to get right, making its popularity all the more surprising. It’s a very dated script, creaky and often slow, so strong performances and direction are crucial. When done well, it’s suspenseful and even charming with a sharp sense of humor. When not, it can bore the hell out of an audience.
Thankfully, Derby Dinner Playhouse is more than up to the task with their current production. Strong performances and effects work, elaborate set, and period-perfect costumes blend under Bekki Jo Schneider’s sure direction and create a fun evening of murderous suspense.
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 (Cary Wiger), living off the graces of his wealthy wife Margot (Tina Jo Wallace). When his plot to have her killed goes horribly awry, he switches gears and manages to frame her for murder.
Wiger is all deliciously unctuous charm and conceit as the coldly calculating Tony, utterly believable in a change-of-pace role for this Derby Dinner stalwart. Wallace gives a believable and sympathetic woman-in-peril performance as Margot, creating a persona so strong you can still feel her presence even while she is offstage for much of the second act.
That said, it’s the actors in the supporting roles that really bring the show to life. David Myers is fun as Captain Lesgate, the flustered and ill-fated hired gun crucial to Tony’s original plot. Brian Bowman makes no bones that his character, Margot’s adulterous love interest Max, is the typical Hollywood-style leading man and pretty much a big cliché; he embraces the challenge and runs with it. And J.R. Stuart, late to join the proceedings, is all no-nonsense swagger, authority, and “veddy, veddy” British bluster as the arguable hero of the piece (and Columbo prototype), Inspector Hubbard.
Director Schneider keeps the proceedings moving at a great clip, wisely using music to underscore much of the suspenseful moments and never letting her actors lose the pace. Alexa Holloway’s perfectly moody lighting design nicely enhances Lee Buckholz’s set, which makes smart use of the thrust staging and creates a believable 1950’s-era London apartment.
Overall, this is a very well done production of a tricky script. If you are familiar with the plot (as most are), it’s fun to see it performed again with a fresh-faced cast. If you are not, you may find yourself surprised by the occasional plot twists. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend an evening of theater.
Featuring Brian Bowman, Tim Charlton, Paul Kerr, David Myers, J.R. Stuart, Tina Jo Wallace, and Cary Wiger.
Dial “M” For Murder
October 5 – November 13, 2016
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.