Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: “Dial ‘M’ for Murder”

Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 7. 2014

Brent Griffith as Tony Wendice, Jacob Tice as Max Halliday, Deya Ozburn as Margot Wendice
Of course there is a murder in “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” but it is not a murder mystery in the sense of a whodunit. The audience sees the murder take place, so there is no mystery about who did it; although there is definitely a surprise twist to the crime. The mystery is in whether or not the killer will be caught and if so how — and what most thoroughly engages the audience are the complex relationships between the five characters in the story.

Margot Wendice (Deya Ozburn) is caught up in less-than-satisfactory marriage to Tony Wendice (Brent Griffith) and is having an affair with the mystery writer Max Halliday (Jacob Tice). Tony hires Captain Lesgate (Christopher Rocco) to murder someone and something goes wrong during the execution of the crime. There is an unexpected twist at this point, rather early in the plot, and even though the audience is in on it I will not give it away. Inspector Hubbard (Robert Geller) is called in to catch the killer. It appears at first to be a cut-and-dry case, but Inspector Hubbard is relentless. He trusts no one and suspects everyone.

The story is set in England in the 1950s. The set by Blake R. York (who also does a great job of choreographing a big fight scene) is terrific, as are the period costumes by resident costume designer Michele Graves and the lighting by Pavlina Morris. Particularly effective are dramatic but subtle lighting effects from behind the set when doors are opened, which is absolutely astounding in a night scene when Margot opens the bedroom door and is backlit in a ghostly white nightgown. The soft glow of the fireplace and the perfect timing of light changes when switches are switched are also effective. Credit both Morris and director Pug Bujeaud for this.
The British accents (dialect coach Wade Hicks) are handled beautifully with just enough of an accent on the part of all the actors to be realistic without being a distraction.

All of the actors enunciate and project clearly, something that is sorely lacking in some plays. Neither Max nor Tony is a particularly likeable character, and Tice and Griffith nail their slightly irritating personality traits well. Rocco plays Captain Lesgate as sleazy but not the brightest bulb on the tree, and Geller is believable and likeable while taciturn and relentlessly methodical as the police inspector — more Columbo than Sherlock Holmes.

As for Ozburn, every role I have seen her in has been outstanding, and this may be one of her best. In the opening scene she is nervous and restrained in her relationship with Max, and I thought her tenseness added depth to her character. Her acting was nuanced with barely contained intensity until the big fight scene, in which she threw caution to the wind. Seldom have I seen a more convincing fight scene. She and her attacker had me holding my breath.

I could quibble with the length of some of the scene changes and with a few bits with props — especially the constant lighting of cigarettes, which were then snuffed out after only one or two puffs. But these distractions are minor.

One other thing that bothered me was the placement of a space heater that was brought in for the second act. From my seat in the far left section I could not see it and therefore was confused when Tony said he was going to switch on the heat and I thought he meant the fireplace, which would have to be lighted not switched on. That may seem minor, but it disrupted my concentration and I can’t help but wonder if it bothered others in the audience.

“Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” is a classic thriller produced, acted and directed with skill and intelligence. I highly recommend it. Seats were sold out opening night, so I suggest getting tickets immediately. This is the play’s final weekend.

WHAT: Dial M for Murder
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 9
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$15
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

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