‘Dial M for Murder’


This iconic thriller has had multiple lives since it was first written in the early 1950s by Frederick Knott, an English playwright. Seventy years later the story still resonates and fills theaters. It is best known in the U.S. for the 1954 film version directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.
“Murder gone wrong” is the basic premise. But rather than a who-done-it, here we have a will-they-get-away-with-it. The audience knows from the start about Tony Wendice’s plan to murder his wealthy wife, Margot, who has strayed. Audience members become voyeurs caught up in the suspense of oncoming details. Marrying for money and murdering for money is nothing new (just watch the Crime channel) but this layered, nuanced dramedy presents sharp plot twists and turns that keep us on our tiptoes. You may need a spreadsheet to keep track.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s bright adaptation makes the story modern without changing the time period. The elegant set by Walt Spangler is the Wendice’s midcentury film noir-style living room in their 1954 London flat. In the original version Tony is a pro tennis player-cum-house husband. In Hatcher’s version, Tony, masterfully played by David Andrew Macdonald, is a proper, charming Englishman and failed writer. Instead of an affair with a man (Mark), Margot, eloquently played by Gretchen Egolf, has an affair with a woman – sassy, colorful Maxine, (Lori Vega). Maxine is a successful suspense writer obsessed with murder plots who finds herself amidst a real life one. Tony is her publicist. The trio makes clever banter as the story unfolds.
The collaboration between Hatcher and Tracy Brigden is brilliant as Brigden makes her directorial debut at the Guthrie. Brigden brings the characters to life, tightening the games people play with precise timing, creating mood with lightning, thunder and rain by Xavier Pierce (lighting designer) and sounds such as Maxine’s voice on the radio in the background, drums, cymbals and clicking locks by sound designer John Gromada. Brian Thomas Abraham as Inspector Hubbard and Peter Christian Hansen as Lesgate round out the five-character ensemble, stepping into the spotlight as full characters, one tragically embroiled in Tony’s plot and the other boisterous and smarter than we think he is.
A great thriller like this creates anxiety and makes the ordinary seem strange and menacing. “Dial M for Murder” takes place in the luxurious living room of the Wendices, an upper-class British couple of social standing. As the plot unfolds that same living room where drinks are served and enjoyed, where characters converse and laugh, becomes the eerie scene of something horrific and unforeseen. Hence, the room has been forever transformed, as has our view of the characters once the light comes in and reveals the truth.

“Dial M for Murder” runs through Feb. 25 at the Guthrie Theater.

Comments are closed.