Photo by North Bay Stage Company

Photo by North Bay Stage Company

Review of Dial M for Murder
By Frederick Knott
Directed by John Faulkner

For tickets / schedule :
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: October 21 – November 6, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(October 28, 2016)

Footsteps creak in the passage, and the audience is holding their breath, tensing with the couple huddled in the dark, clinging to each other in anticipation and terror. Will the key fit the lock? Will an innocent be sent to death row for a crime she did not commit? Dial M for Murder is unique among its genre—the murderer is known all along, and the thrill is in whether or not he can get away with the perfect crime. Director John Faulkner references it as “one of the not-so-common plays where the villain takes center stage.”

Michael Walraven’s Tony has the façade of polished society thinly veiling a chilling psychotic killer. He transitions between self-inflicted personas: a cold intellectual who is fond of rambling to those he has elegantly trapped between his pincers. The scene with Paul Menconi’s Lesgate is disturbing—Tony casually walks about the room, wiping fingerprints off glasses and furniture alike, while Lesgate realizes he has been trapped, his expression growing more panicked as Tony’s leisurely cleaning unfolds. While tennis is the sport referenced by characters, the play is closer to a baseball game—quietly tiptoeing along interspersed with moments of wild action. It is Tony’s mesmerizing dialog that drives the story, not violence.

The loving tenderness of Margot is memorable from Grace Kelly’s performance in the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation, and Jesse Bell brings the poise and innocence of the role to life with an acerbic edge to it. When she successfully defends herself, it is believable considering the strength Margot displays from the opening scene. Although the desperation of the situation causes an eventual breakdown, Jesse Bell’s performance is determined and sympathetic. Despite a skillfully covered for mishap, Tom McIntyre’s Max captures a romantic writer caught up in his own world. Naively in love, he fails to see the cruel cunning of the man beside him until it is nearly too late.

Audie Foote and the team’s set design of drab grey and black furnishings create an overcast atmosphere punctuated by the sunset colored couch where most of the action takes place. Lighting designer Robin Delucca recreates film noir with dramatic changes in lamps and evening moonlight—a crucial aspect of building tension. Because the play is comprised of lengthy monologues, it can become rather static. John Faulkner’s direction shifts actors around the stage: pacing, staring, and limping. This creates a dynamic movement to the scenes, although the hard soled period shoes can become distracting in their loud clacking.

You will be on the edge of your seat for North Bay Stage Company’s Dial M for Murder—a timeless classic of the “nice guy” who is not what he seems. Prepare for a chilling evening of machinations and intrigue from a capable cast of local actors.