Dial “M” for Murder
Reviewed by Dana Martin
Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre
Through August 13th
Before dialing “M” for murder, dial “W” for why. Why? Why choose this play to produce? What is it about this story that needs to be re-told? The Group Rep’s production of Dial “M” for Murder, a Hitchcock-inspired mystery thriller, serves as a reminder that sometimes it’s not about the relevance of the story itself, but how the story is brought to life.
Jolly old England, circa 1954. Former tennis star and current cuckold Tony Wendice (Adam Jonas Segaller) wants to kill his rich, cheating wife Margot (Carrie Schroeder). He creates a seemingly infallible plan and dupes stupid small-time criminal Captain Legislate (Michael Robb) into executing his plot. One fatal error: he underestimates Margot’s scrappiness. Poor Captain Legislate winds up dead. Tony manages to haphazardly (and temporarily) twist the evidence, casting blame on his cheating wife. Clever Inspector Hubbard (Doug Haverty) easily picks up the foul scent and reveals the truth. Tony’s dastardly plan is uncovered. Justice is presumably served.
The play opens with a rocky start, with the actors stiff and uncomfortable, and exposition delivered at a fever pitch. The style of the play resembles a 50’s sitcom; the only thing missing was a laugh track. Then in walks Adam Jonas Segaller as Tony Wendice, and the play springs to life. Segaller is the kind of actor who pays close attention to detail, who isn’t afraid of bold specificity, and who makes his scene partners look like geniuses. In other words, my favorite kind. With Segaller at the helm, suddenly the assortment of oddball characters and stilted 50’s style motifs clicked. I was invested in the world of the play. Dial S for Segaller.
Director Bruce Kimmel keeps the blocking simple and finds the appropriate pace for the action, which allows the humor to surface. He has also made sure that the considerable amount of stage business is clear and well-considered throughout. Casting Segaller was his ace-in-the-hole. J. Kent Inasy’s lighting and set design are adequate, while Angela M. Eads’ costume design rounds things out nicely by clearly distinguishing between the posh and working-class characters.
Again, why mount Dial “M” for Murder? The answer: pure old-fashioned entertainment. Finding the craft and heart of a story which permits the audience a full — if fleeting — escape from reality is a job well done.
Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through August 13th. (818) 763-5990 or www.thegrouprep.com. Running time: 2 hours with 2 intermissions.