Review | Dial M For Murder: Dial M For Misogyny, Masculinity and Morals (or lack thereof)

At St. Paul’s Gremlin, though Sept 30

Emily Dussault and Peter Christian Hansen in DIAL M FOR MURDER. Photo by Alyssa Kristine.

You probably know Dial M for Murder better as a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Gremlin Theatre’s season opener reminds us it came first as a stage play (of the same title). And on Gremlin’s new thrust stage in the buzzing Vandalia Tower complex, this production proves you don’t need Hitchcockian zooms and subjective framing to create psychological tension and thrill. Live theatre can do just as well.

Frederick Knott’s play was first performed in 1950s London, and this production under the direction of Brian Columbus preserves this setting. (Modern technology would probably disrupt Knott’s intricately set-up crime scene.) Carl Schoenborn’s set features, with meticulous detail, period objects that situate our imaginations firmly in the time. Pre-show music from the ‘50s is also a nice bonus.

The basic plot of Dial M for Murder: Ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice (Peter Christian Hansen, also Artistic Director of Gremlin Theatre) finds out his wife Margot Wendice (Emily Dussault) has had an affair with another man (Dan Hopman). (Who could blame her? He wasn’t a good husband. He also married her for her money.) He plans for a past acquaintance (Grant Henderson) to murder her; things don’t go as planned; an inspector (Alan Sorenson) calls.

This “basic plot” takes close to two hours and a half to play out, so you can imagine how complex it actually is. The cast carries the energetic strain throughout this lengthy unfolding, supported by Columbus’ strong staging that extracts full potential of the thrust stage. This, with Schoeborn’s well-angled set and Inna Skogerboe’s commendable sound design, makes the Wendices’ living room seem so self-contained with tension that it will burst any moment.

The characters’ depths only go so far as to serve the story of an amoral and cunning force that drives the majority of the play—but don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining to watch. Hansen performs a masculinity so slick yet so overt that you wonder if this can still exist today (it does). Hopman as Margot’s not-so-secret lover Max Halliday, in contrast, plays his character with a mellowness fitting for the small voice of morality he represents. And as misogynistic representations of women generally go, Margot Wendice has the greatest emotional highs and lows in the play, all of which Dussault convincingly delivers.

In a play that deals with murder primarily as thrill, it’s a relief to hear an audience member gasp when

[spoiler alert]

a death sentence is mentioned. The most interesting moments to experience at Dial M for Murder are probably when you consider what you see in front of you with the most human lens. If you can ignore the iffy British accents (think Julie Andrews meets Stewie Griffin meets Tyrion Lannister) and not get too sucked in by Columbus’ compelling direction, it’s worth trying.

 

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