Dial M for Murder, and a Great Evening


Jennifer Winegardner and David Edwards
Jennifer Winegardner and David Edwards

Dial M for Murder is a lot of fun in a number of ways and on a number of levels. If you’ve been reading my reviews for long you know I’m not only a Broadway buff but also a film buff. So I find it doubly interesting to see a play that was also a movie.

The movie, of course, is the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Grace Kelley, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings. In Surflight’s production their parts are played by Jennifer Winegardner (as Margot Wendice, the wife), David Edwards, (Tony Wendice, the ex-tennis player husband) and Lance Olds (Max Halliday, Margot’s friend—and lover). Rounding out the cast are Scott Watanabe, as Captain Lesgate, who initially believes Tony wants only to buy his car and David Sitler as Inspector Hubbard, the policeman who cracks the case.

What case? Well I’m not going to go into the plot. If you’ve seen the movie you already know it and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil your fun. Part of the fun for me was the feeling I was looking back into a bygone era. The story is a period piece now but more than that, it’s a literate and deliberately paced story that seems to be increasingly rare these days. In some ways it reminded me of another old British murder mystery I saw at the Surflight, The Mousetrap, in 2002. Dial M for Murder is much easier to follow and it’s not truly a mystery because we see the plot unfold. But it too demands an intellectual involvement that many people seem incapable of affording an entertainment these days.

If you pay attention you’ll be rewarded with some excellent performances. In just a few shows I’ve come to really like Jennifer Winegardner. As the earnest and innocent Margot she’s the perfect British wife. When she was in danger I really did feel a twinge of concern even though I knew what would happen from the movie.

This is a play very much about dyads—pairings. Tony and Margot, Tony and Lesgate, Tony and Max, Margot and Max, Margot and Lesgate... Watching the pairings embrace and interlock and shift is part of the story’s appeal to me. The dynamic between Tony and Max is a particularly interesting pas de deux. The one question that ran through my head was whether the casting of these two should have been reversed. Edwards strikes me as more likeable than Olds and I also believe he’s the better actor. I could see the case for the casting chosen but I’ll always wonder how it would have worked the other way around. In any case, both actors gave good performances with Edwards worth a special mention in my view.

Scott Watanabe was the surprise find of the summer. He gave a bravura performance as the Engineer in Miss Saigon and ends his Surflight run this year with a very effective portrayal of the shifty Captain Lesgate. He seems to have a knack for playing disreputable characters.

Besides a cameo by Surflight producing artistic director Steve Steiner as a constable the only other character is David Sitler’s Inspector Hubbard. His character doesn’t get to do as much as the others (He doesn’t appear until the end of the second of three acts) but if I had a murder that needed investigating, I’d want him on my side.

I’m sometimes remiss in giving credit to the artists who help shape our perceptions of a play in less obvious ways than the cast but this time out I felt their contributions were quite conspicuous. James Alexander Bond’s direction, Jessica Kaplan’s scenic design, Andi Lyn’s costume design and even Jeffrey Greenberg’s lighting design all conspired to make Dial M for Murder a perfect October evening. Even the quiet and lonely streets of Beach Haven seemed to be in on the game. Go see Dial M for Murder.

Dial M for Murder runs October 11 through the 14 at 8pm and October 12 and 13 at 2pm 2006 at the Surflight.