Sunday, June 16, 2024

If You Ask Me: “Dial M For Murder”

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Revised Dial M for Murder at Westport Playhouse

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

In their recently truncated season, the Westport Country Playhouse (WCP) is currently offering Frederick Knott’s classic mystery, Dial M for Murder.  The play will also serve as Artistic Director Mark Lamos’ farewell show as the theatre’s head for the last 15 years.  Mr. Lamos, in fine form here, shows that this old warhorse of a mystery, made popular with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film version, still has some miles left in the tank.

When London businessman Tony Wendice (Patrick Andrews) plots what he thinks is the perfect murder of his rich, unfaithful wife Margot (Kate Abbruzzese), he does so by blackmailing ne’re-do-well Lesgate (Denver Milord) to do the dirty deed.  When the tables are turned, though, and the attempted murder goes bad fast, the twists and turns multiply and the pressure is on.  At WCP, Jeffrey Hatcher’s revised version of “Dial M’ has been utilized.  The plot remains basically the same with a sex change for Margot’s lover Maxine (the very tall and striking Krystel Lucas) and Inspector Hubbard (Kate Burton, deliciously droll).  The gender switch is fine, but Hatcher also over-complicates the plot adding unnecessary layers in the second act that really don’t deliver as strongly as the original.   Still, mystery lovers aren’t likely to complain.

The performances are mostly fun here with long-time veteran Kate Burton having a ball as the inspector delivering, at one point, the single word, “Pity,” and making it register.  Abbruzzese and Lucas ignite a sexual charge between each other without ever being overt. Milord is effective as a thug with just enough smarts to make him dangerous.  Mr. Andrews, while a fine actor and appropriately devious here, works at a disadvantage by being almost a foot shorter and slighter than many of the cast members (this includes the women).  The casting of this actor is odd to say the least but he delivers where it counts.

As usual Alexander Dodge provides a stylish setting and Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s costuming is smart and fashionable especially for the lovers.  Emma Deane’s lighting gets all the shadows just right setting a proper tone of incoming menace.  One niggling caveat is the herbal cigarettes used are really awful for audiences in the first 10 rows or so.  I do not understand why theatres are still using these smelly fakes when there are plenty of other options out there.

Dial M for Murder” continues at Westport Playhouse, 25 Powers Court in Westport, through July 29th.  For further information, call: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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