On Halloween, while goblins and ghouls and a wide variety of superheroes were out roaming the streets, Ocean State Theatre Company was doling out some tricks and treats of their own with the gripping thriller Dial M for Murder.
Originally written for the stage by Frederick Knott, this murder mystery was later made famous on the big screen by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. And, as the show’s program rightly notes, the key to any thriller is believability, a feat much easier achieved in film. Whereas on stage, believability resides in the performers’ ability to make what the audience is seeing look plausible. The cast of six in OSTC’s production, directed by Aimee Turner, succeed admirably in this regard.
The entire play takes place in the living room of a London apartment. And, once again, OSTC set designers have outdone themselves. With the help of “Partner and Design” Ethan Allen, this posh pad features some beautiful furnishings: a large wooden desk off to one side with a very luxurious looking couch center stage, French doors opening to a courtyard, a fireplace, lamps and light fixtures complete the décor. During her opening remarks, Turner turns and admires, asking, ”Wouldn’t you kill for this apartment?”
The play’s plot revolves around the familiar theme of greed and murder. Tony Wendice plans to have his wealthy wife, Margot, murdered for her money. To do so, he blackmails an old college acquaintance, with a very shady past, into committing the “perfect” murder. But things go terribly awry when the murderer becomes the murdered! All these details give very little away as they all occur early in the play. From that point forward, the suspense resides in one’s wondering if the police will figure out the truth in this twisted tale of murder and deceit.
Under Turner’s direction, this two act play, with each act running close to an hour in length, breezes right along. Though a few of the lines were fumbled, that did not detract from the overall production, which was highlighted by some wonderful performances. And, in a bit of a theatrical twist, during intermission the police inspect the crime scene and remove the dead body. So, audience members may want to remain seated between acts.
Brandon Whitehead, as Inspector Hubbard, delivers the evening’s best performance. From the moment he enters, with Mr. Wendice opening the door to observe his hulking and disheveled appearance, Whitehead dominates the stage. With a Columbo-like clumsiness, he draws laughs just as easily with a gesture or facial expression as he does with his calculated and silly open-ended questions, which he delivers with a skillful, deadpan timing.
Drew Anthony Allen, as the scheming Tony Wendice, has his hands full playing the loving husband while planning his wife’s murder. Yet he is quite convincing, projecting a chilling confidence and calmness. He matter-of-factly wipes away his accomplices fingerprints from some drinking glasses while getting him to leave his prints on a letter he will use later to frame his old college chum.
As the would be murderer, Captain Lesgate, Rudy Sanda comes across as both likeable and pathetic, making him the perfect mark for Mr. Wendice. Sanda’s charm and smile easily convey how this lifelong scammer has made it this far. Yet, one does sort of feel bad for him upon his untimely demise.
Aimee Doherty nicely portrays the naïve and unsuspecting wife, Margot. Believing so deeply in her husband’s love, she rejects the constant advances of her former lover Max Halliday. Doherty’s flippant and all-too-trusting demeanor makes her even more sympathetic. One wants to shout out, “Don’t answer the phone!” when her husband’s scheme begins to unfold.
As murder mystery TV writer Max Halliday, Bill Mootos’ indifference proves to be prophetic. Nicely timed lines like, “In stories things turn out the way the author wants, in life they don’t,” have a chilling, foreshadowing effect. Yet, Mootos comes across as too gullible, willing to just tag along, whether it be with Margot or Tony. One can easily see why Margot chose Tony over Max.
OSTC’s production of Dial M for Murder will enjoy a limited run until November 16 in the company’s new state-of-the-art theater in Warwick. For more details, visit oceanstatetheatre.org