‘Dial M’ the play mixes comedy and thrills

If you are only aware of Dial M For Murder through Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film then you don’t really know the source, the play by the same name.

The original play by Frederick Knott is a prime example of home invasion theater. Not surprisingly Knott also wrote Wait Until Dark.

Dial M For Murder was originally performed on BBC Television in 1952 followed by a stage production that summer at the Westminster Theatre in London’s West End. 

“The original cast featured Emrys Jones as Tony Wendice, Jane Baxter as Sheila Wendice, Andrew Cruickshank as Chief Inspector Hubbard, Olaf Pooley as Captain Lesgate, with Alan McNaughtan as Max Halliday.”

The subsequent Broadway run starting in late 1952 featured two actors who would become synonymous with Dial M, John Williams (Inspector Hubbard) and Anthony Dawson (Lesgate, a.k.a. Swann) both who would play the same roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 movie version as well as one of the eventual television productions.

A flippant husband hires a former colleague to murder his wife, whom he discovers is having an affair. Things don’t go as planned yet the husband finds a way to frame his wife for murder by revealing incriminating love letters of the previously mention affair.

The newest adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher switches the gender of the intended victim’s lover. Max is now Maxine Hadley.

As imagined by director Tatiana Pandialini what Hitchcock presented as a straight ahead thriller becomes partially a comedy. Perhaps not of screwball or romantic proportions but also not without a dark side. The husband walks with a humorous swagger while the relation between the women has chilled and their relation consists a series of catty remarks.

Alley regulars shine as the various five characters. Teresa Zimmermann (TUTS and Stages as well as Alley roles) as Margot Wendice, Brandon Hearnsberger (Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Case of the Jersey Lilly) as Tony Wendice, with Geena Quitos as Maxine, her sarcastic temperament emphasized by a shock of white hair running through her black coif.

Dylan Godwin (Born With Teeth, Little Comedies) has the most interesting arc since his bedeviled killer attempts to reason with his victim, a sharp contrast to the portrayal of the same character in the film. Todd Waite simply disappears into the character of the very British inspector. Waite is kind of like the Basil Rathbone of Alley actors with his ability to play gentlemanly and avuncular while also having the persona to be surreptitious. 

Effects include a realistic thunderstorm seen sprinkling against windows in the background right before the end of the first act. Production design is heightened by giant illuminated letters spelling “murder” that descend at key points. If you had a compact and pulled it out and looked into the mirror it would spell “redrum.”

Dial M For Murder runs at the Alley Theatre until June 30, 2024.

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