Monday, September 24, 2012

Dialing In: Jungle Theater's 'Dial M for Murder' delivers a standout, suspenseful script shines amid a sea of rom-coms and melodramas


In the dark of night, a moonlit woman reaches out to grab a ringing phone and is caught around the neck with a knotted, silken scarf. A struggle ensues while she is pushed over a desk, gasping for breath in a struggle to stay alive. Miraculously, she finds a pair of scissors and stabs them backwards, killing her assailant.
The murder-gone-wrong is the driving force behind Dial M for Murder, a chilling story about loveless marriages, adultery, and the importance of paying attention to every one of life’s small details which serves as the Jungle Theater’s 2012 season opener.
Over the course of the show, each character comes to think that they’ve figured out who tried to orchestrate the murder – or at least appropriately freed themselves from culpability – before a new revelation leads them to a different conclusion.
Michael Booth, in the role of Tony Wendice, plays the carefully plotting husband who channels his petty anger and boredom with his marriage into dangerous ideas. It’s too bad he seems a little bored with this richly drawn role, leaving one to wonder what a slithering Stephen Yoakam or Luverne Seifert could have done with it.
Cheryl Willis, on the other hand, is wonderful as Wendice's wife Margot, filling the role of an upper crust British female with a spot-on accent and well-padded figure. Willis has the audience sensing Margot’s fear and befuddlement as the investigation into her attempted murder progresses and she faces the difficult choice of protecting herself or trusting her husband.
Terry Hempleman is also charming as murder mystery novelist Max Halliday. His generally subdued demeanor provides flashes of inspiration that lead the audience to slowly articulate the murder without giving it away too quickly (we’re trying our best to do the same).
Best known as a film adaptation directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954 starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, Dial M for Murder stands tall primarily because of its marvelous script, written by British suspense playwright Frederick Knott. Amid the usual sea of “classics” and “rom-coms," this play provides a welcome diversion (even if it is the Jungle's third crack at the production).
Jungle Theater's addition to the strong storyline is Director Bain Boehlke’s stunning set, which almost becomes a character unto itself. Three rooms deep, it perfectly conveys the proportions of the Wendice apartment and the secrets that it contains – a key element to making the show work on stage.
Pacing is pretty clippy here, and while the show does sag when Willis is off-stage for long stretches, two intermissions help move the sequence along.
Dial M for Murder is a fine start to the Jungle’s theater season and a fun chance to see a classic film reinterpreted on stage. It’s a refreshing change from usual theater genres, and an excellent option for anyone looking for a non-sappy Valentine’s date option.
+ Dial M for Murder continues at the Jungle Theater through March 18. For more information visit jungletheater.com