"Dial M for Murder" Opens Princeton Summer Theater Season; With Intrigue and Suspense in Crowd-Pleasing Classic Thriller
Do you really believe in the perfect murder?"
The question of the possibility of a perfect murder arises in the early stages of Frederick Knott's Dial M for Murder (1952), but this thriller keeps its characters and audience on edge, not revealing the answer until the final, suspense-filled seconds of the play.
This popular whodunit actually here it's "will-he-get-away-with-it?" premiered as a BBC television play, went on to long runs in London in the West End and in New York on Broadway, then was immortalized through a 1954 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, and Robert Cummings. Many revivals later (including a 1998 remake, The Perfect Murder, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas), Dial M for Murder still displays its wit, style and dramatic punch in an impressively polished production kicking off the Princeton Summer Theater 2005 season.
Deborah Savadge, who worked on many productions in the early days of PST, 1968-1972, and before that with what was known as Summer Intime, returns as a visiting artist to direct Dial M. Currently the director of the New York-based Playwrights Gallery, Ms. Savadge imbues all aspects of this show with taste and professionalism.
The first-rate cast is led by PST veteran and Princeton University senior Jed Peterson as the devious Tony Wendice, a washed-up tennis star, who has married Margot (Carly Voight, a musical theater major at Westminster Choir College) for her money. Smooth and sophisticated, Mr. Peterson's diabolically clever villain rivets the audience's attention as he concocts a plan for eliminating Margot and cashing in on her will. Ms. Voight's Margot, hardly innocent herself, provides an elegant, alluring counterpart.
Craig Jorczak, a fourth-year student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, lends strong, youthful support as Max, a New York TV crime writer and Margot's lover. He repeatedly engages the married couple and the audience in thought-provoking moral and literary quandaries, as he raises the questions of how to construct a compelling crime story.
Rob Walsh, currently studying at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, admirably fills the bill as Tony's shady hired collaborator; and guest artist Bo Smith, an accomplished veteran actor with experience at regional theaters around the country, delivers an articulate and thoroughly convincing Inspector Hubbard, the down-to-earth, deceptively wily investigator. With panache, conviction and gravitas in this classic murder mystery role, Mr. Smith creates a worthy and memorable antagonist to the iniquitous main character.
Amy Widdowson, Kyle Booten, and Timothy McDonough provide credible support in walk-on roles and as offstage telephone voices. A few slow spots in pacing the entire event, action, and intermissions, and some inconsistency with the British accents are the only glitches in a thoroughly entertaining evening.
Tony seems to have the perfect plan for eliminating his wife, but when Margot surprisingly overpowers her assailant and finds a handy pair of scissors to finish him off, Tony is suddenly on the spot and forced to rapidly improvise a Plan B. The complications multiply when Inspector Hubbard arrives to unravel the truth.
Dial M requires an astute, attentive audience to participate fully with Tony Wendice and his accomplice Swann in the first act's planning of the murder, then to follow all the twists and turns as the crime takes place and the inspector puts together the case throughout the second and third acts. Though a full two and one-half hours, including two intermissions, the evening moves along rapidly, with plenty of exciting twists and turns in the action. The actors are committed and convincing in bringing these characters to life, and the suspense as to whether the sinister Tony will actually get away with his deadly scheme keeps the audience engaged from start to finish.
First-rate production values complement the excellent on-stage performances. Set and lighting by Scott Grzenczyk are detailed, nuanced and effective in creating the living room of the Wendice's well appointed London flat and enhancing the mood of the proceedings. Sound design by Jonathan Bulava provides appropriately ominous music and other effects. Costume designer Meryl Pressman has outfitted the characters in convincing early fifties attire with just the right touch of elegance for Margot and for the men where needed.
Mr. Knott, author also of the 1966 thriller Wait Until Dark, is a brilliant craftsman of the murder mystery genre, and his work is admirably served here by this talented PST ensemble. In its opening weekend Dial M for Murder drew capacity audiences and will be a hot ticket for its final five performances this coming weekend.
It looks like a promising season ahead for Princeton Summer Theater, with production crews and many of the same outstanding performers returning for Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile next week, the musical Godspell for three weekends from mid to late July, then John Van Druten's 1940s comedy The Voice of the Turtle in early August, along with two additional children's shows and an array of workshops.
Dial M for Murder will play June 23-25 at 8 p.m. and June 25 and 26 at 2 p.m. at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus. Call (609) 258-7062 for reservations and visit http://www.princetonsummertheater.org for more information.