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Dial M for Murder

a Thriller
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Frederick Knott

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 2646

SHOWING : January 17, 2008 - February 10, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Ex-tennis star Tony Wendice decides to murder his wife for her money and because she had an affair the year before. He hires an associate to strangle her, but when things go wrong Tony quickly implements a clever and even more malicious "Plan B."


CAST & CREW LIST
Associate Producer Ann-Carol Pence
Producer Anthony Rodriguez
Director Joe Gfaller
Sound Designer Chris Bartelski
Lighting Designer Rob Dillard
Scenic Designer Bob Hoffman
Costume Designer Joanna Schmink
Max Halliday Brik Berkes
Inspector Hubbard Matt Brady
Tony Wendice Chris Ensweiler
Understudy/Max Bobby Labartino
Captain Lesgate Matthew Myers
Margot Wendice Elizabeth Diane Wells
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REVIEWS

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Dial "O" for "Oil This Creaky Plot"
by Dedalus
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
3.5
The Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville recently finished its run of Frederick Knott’s 1952 thriller “Dial ‘M’ for Murder.” And, while I found the entire production entertaining, artfully directed and designed, and (for the most part) lovingly performed, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the dusty contrivances of its script. Our modern tastes may have been “Sleuthed” and “Deathtrapped” too often to appreciate a play that’s takes too long to set up its plot, and defies logic in too many ways to be fully forgiven.

In “Dial M,” British playboy Tony Wendice creates an overelaborate plan to do away with his wife and get his hands on her fortune. Since his plan is so jaw-droppingly convoluted, a large amount of the first act is pure Let’s-sit-and-talk exposition, as he lays out his history, his wife’s history, his unwilling accomplice’s history, and more, just for our benefit (it makes little or no internal sense of its own). Of course, the payoff for this comes as we watch his plan derail, rerail, and careen on a steep down-grade to total disaster for … somebody.

Now that I’ve said all this, I feel a need to pull a classic thriller reversal, and say that I really liked this production, even with all the faultlines I’ve mentioned above.

One of the strengths of this production was Chris Ensweiler’s portrait of Tony. This is a character with absolutely no redeeming qualities, one of those thinly drawn “playwright’s constructs” that form the flimsy support for tottering old plots like this. But, Mr. Ensweiler gave him such charm and grace-under-fire, that we were (almost) rooting for his success. This was perhaps intentionally counterpointed by Elizabeth Berkes’ bland rendering of Tony’s wife, Margot. It’s almost as if the production wanted us to want her dead. She was totally a creature of the fifties, driven to distraction by remorse over a momentary indiscretion, completely dependent on the instructions and wishes of her husband. Her accent was so arch, so diction-perfect, it was as if she lived with a British Rectal Probe continually in place. Considering the warmth and vitality Ms. Berkes brought to previous performances, it can only be assumed this blandness was a conscious choice to make Tony seem more charming and Margot more dull.

For this final performance, Brik Berkes was replaced by Bobby Labortino in the role of Max, the American interloper into this cesspool of marital dysfunction. Mr. Labortino seemed a bit lackluster (perhaps a sign of being a late-run “replacement”), but not fatally so – his scenes only slowed the overall pace slightly. Rounding out the cast were Matt Myers as an old school chum of Tony’s (who apparently lost his English Dialect in one of the dust-bunnies of the plot), and Matt Brady, very good as a police inspector with a typical British eccentricity, and a typical mystery-play omniscience.

Director Joe Gfaller and his design team put together an attractive production, kept the pace at a fairly crisp level, and orchestrated the tension well enough to make me forgive the mustiness of the plot. They compressed the original three-act script into two acts to improve the pace. They even indulged in a few unsubtle fifties theatrical flourishes, such as blatant red light pictures to over-underscore some tense moments for Tony. The sound design with its frequent telephone conversations worked very well, and the “murder” scene was especially compelling.

So, what did this production prove, and why write about it now that it has closed? I think it proves that there is value in noting that even a dusty old creaker like this plot can be made to run smoothly if it is oiled by intelligent performance and design choices.

And I, for one, see nothing wrong with that.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com) [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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