Dial “M” for Murder
I’m a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. It’s been 10 years at least since I’ve seen his 1954 film Dial M for Murder, which was adapted for the big screen by the author of the original play, Frederick Knott. But Hitchcock’s film looms large enough in the mind that, when watching Good Luck Macbeth’s current production, a comparison was inevitable.
Simply put, GLM’s play is not as good as the movie.
That said, the GLM production has a few excellent scenes and performances, and is an enjoyable enough investment of a few bucks and a couple of hours. I attended the opening night performance, originally just as a wingman for one of our regular theater reviewers. Eventually, for reasons too dull to explain here, he had to opt out of writing the review, so I took on the task myself. The point is that as I was watching the play, I had no intention of writing a review. I’m not sure how that affected my perception of the play—if anything, it might have made me a little harder on it.
The story centers on Tony Wendice (Scott Reeves), a retired tennis player, who hatches a plan to have his rich and cheating wife, Margot (Kristine Kirchoff), murdered. He phones up a hapless heavy, Lesgate (Robert Mills), tricks him into coming over, and coerces him into agreeing to commit the crime.
The long conversation between Wendice and Lesgate, in which the suggestion of murder grows from sly insinuation to unholy contract, is easily the best scene of the production. Reeves, who, many moons ago, was an RN&R contributor and is now the artistic director at GLM, hits the right balance of diabolic charm and vengeful greed. And Mills conveys a soulless thug who slinks at the edges of polite society, a monster just barely concealed in plain view.
The buildup to the murder is so engrossing that the murder itself is a total disappointment. Fans of the Hitchcock film will remember that scene as the highlight of the movie—a tense marvel of desktop entanglements and glinting silver. Kirchoff, charged with the unenviable task of portraying a character popularly associated with Grace Kelly, fails to convey any sense of terror.
Brady Shea, as Margot’s lover, a mystery writer named Max Halliday, is miscast. He seems too young, too inexperienced, and he and Kirchoff have zero romantic chemistry. His suit is also ill-fitting. He seems to have snuck in from a high school production. The rest of the cast is fairly good, though there was some faltering of accents. (The play is set in mid-20th century London.)
The play, as it’s written, has a rather clunky third act and a convoluted resolution. Kirk Gardner, as Chief Inspector Hubbard, is required to deliver some ridiculous dialogue, but he makes an admirable attempt at it.
The set is generally pretty good, with the notable exception that the curtains were so close to the wall that when, just before the murder, Lesgate hides behind them, his sizable bulk draws an unintentional, tension-deflating laugh.
On opening night, there were some other technical problems, including missed lighting cues, though these were probably attributable to first-night jitters. The cast did a nice job of rolling through these technical problems. They seemed to recognize that in a perfectly planned play, like a perfectly planned murder, something almost always goes wrong.