|Police detective (second from left) shares his thinking about the murder with Max Halliday and the Weddices .|
For Frederick Knott's "Dial 'M' for Murder," I was especially fascinated by what scenic designer Kate Sutton-Johnson had to say. She focuses on one crucial visual element: "the upper surround (which we've dubbed the 'mega-cornice' [that] sits above the apartment, separate but echoing its architecture."
This "echo" receives projected black-and-white film images during the phone calls that are essential to the story. We see partial facial features of the person at the other end of the call. Just to see the scheming Tony Weddice's eyes close briefly when he learns from his panicked wife, Margot, that his hired killer has himself been killed by the intended victim speaks volumes.
James Still directs the production with his usual sure hand. But I'm tempted to go on and on about the space in which the suspense drama takes place. The scene is a posh London flat in 1952, when Britain was beginning to feel its oats once again after the dark night of World War II. That upper surround signals both protection and looming menace — perfect for a play that centers on a frayed marital bond heading toward a final rupture.
Sutton-Johnson describes the projected images as "featur[ing] odd angles, odd scales, and odd croppings, creating in the
audience a subtle sense of discomfort or imbalance as our story unfolds." True enough, but I detected discomforting angles and dimensions in the designed room as well. Everything about the space works to reinforce the dramatic milieu.
|What could possibly go wrong?: Tony and Max will go out to a stag dinner, Margot will stay home scrapbooking.|
The Weddices' apartment bespeaks wealth and glamour, the superficial glow of well-appointed domesticity. The story undercuts this almost immediately, as we learn of Tony's lingering resentment of Margot's unfaithfulness, particularly with an American friend, Max Halliday, on top of the subtle humiliation of his being a retired tennis star living off his wife's wealth.
Matt Mueller conveyed the smoothness with which Tony launches his scheme, and his attention to detail, which helps him
|Tony Weddice tightens the screws on Captain Lesgate to rope him into his plot.|
As Captain Lesgate, Steve Wojtas fully lived up to the play's portrait of a man with a checkered past backed into a corner and recruited to carry out a master manipulator's revenge. As the dogged detective, IRT veteran Robert Neal displayed his usual command of the kind of role where determination and an imposing intelligence tramples every obstacle.
Christopher Allen reflected Max Halliday's controlled anxiety and discretion, qualities that burst free in the second act into a seasoned mystery writer's confidence that he has the perfect solution for rescuing Margot from her doom. In the play's height of dramatic irony, he outlines the plot Tony had indeed tried to carry out. It's a shame the actor muffed another touch of irony, a first-act line crucial to the play's meaning: "In stories things turn out as the author plans them to....In real life they don't — always."
The accidents of real life are this play's topic, insofar as the most well-studied plans rarely yield perfect results. Nothing that our intelligence and intentions, whether for good or ill, propose is adequate for what life is likely to produce. This production drives home that lesson with consistent flair.
If a tightly plotted suspense play seems too artificial, it may still be unwise to shrug it off as unrelated to how we who are not murder-minded actually live. I'm reminded of the wonderful title of a collection of literary essays by Marvin Mudrick: "Books Are Not Life But Then What Is?"
[Photos by Zach Rosing]