Play: Dial M for Murder
Group: Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Venue: Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: March 12,13,14
Tickets: $16; contact 314-821-9956
Story: Accomplished tennis player Tony Wendice has given up the game professionally at the urging of his wife, Margot, whom he has married not just for her beauty but also for her money. Now, Tony is a sporting goods salesman part-time and living the good life full-time. When he finds out, however, about a short-lived love affair between his wife and an American writer named Max Halliday, he meticulously spends a year concocting a plan to have Margot killed and collect money from her will in the process.
Tony hires an old college chum, a small-time crook named Swann now going by the name Lesgate, to murder Margot, using the threat of blackmail as bait. While Tony convinces the visiting Max to join him at a stag party, he provides Lesgate with a key to his swank London home to provide access for the hired killer to finish off Margot. Tony’s scheme, however, doesn’t go according to plan, and he has to devise a backup plot to do away with his wife, somehow fooling a pesky and persistent police detective in the process.
Highlights: Frederick Knott achieved success essentially with just two plays, this one from 1952 and a later effort titled Wait Until Dark. This particular cat-and-mouse work achieved greater success on film under the masterful direction of Alfred Hitchcock and a notable cast including Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and John Williams.
The current production by the Kirkwood Theatre Guild is carefully and meticulously directed by Jan Meyer and played out on a sumptuous set grandly designed by Kristin Meyer, although the marble floor seems a bit much. There’s plenty of handsome furniture, though, a nifty fireplace, some expensive-looking rugs and a desk set before a French window that plays a pivotal part in the proceedings.
Steve Abling provides some nice lighting, particularly for the sinister murder scene, and sound designer Lee Meyer adds plenty of good sound effects, whether “dark and stormy night” stuff or rousing Vivaldi strings. Additionally, the three primary characters are dressed in the finest elegance of an upwardly mobile British sort, courtesy of costume designer Cherol Bowman Thibaut, who utilizes some more modest threads for the Scotland Yard men.
Other Info: While entertaining for the most part, this production suffers from an overly genteel pace, as director Meyer stretches out the goings-on far too long. Ratcheting up the movement of the work by pruning 20 minutes from its languid stroll would enhance appreciation for this period piece.
Addtionally, apart from a precise and delightful interpretation by David Bornholdt as the seedy but agreeable small-time hood, the acting is too often flat or over-the-top in the case of Troy Turnipseed’s officious and aggressively nasty Tony; some subtlety would be welcome. Stephanie Merritt and Lance Begnaud make an attractive pair as Margot and Max but don’t really engender any tension. Richard Hunsaker has a good time playing the Columbo-esque inspector, although he, too, succumbs to the urge to move into melodrama. Michael Bentz has a small but amusing role as another police officer.
Primarily, this good-looking but rather static interpretation best serves as a reminder of the superiority of Hitchcock’s editing genius; the camera work in the attempted murder scene in his movie still is a textbook example of consummate artistic achievement. But, even with its shortcomings, it’s fun to see a presentation of this familiar gem.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.