‘Dial “M” For Murder’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria by Julia L. Exline

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The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents Frederick Knott’s Dial “M” for Murder, a quiet thriller that lures the audience into its twisty web. Carla Scopeletis directs this deceivingly calm, enthralling production.

John Henderson (Inspector Hubbard) and James Myers (Max Halliday).Photos by Heather Norcross.
John Henderson (Inspector Hubbard) and James Myers (Max Halliday). Photo by Heather Norcross.

Set Designer Dan Remmers creates a poshly decorated ground-floor London apartment, with a large window framed by sweeping burgundy drapes, a marble fireplace, and elegant furniture and art pieces, with set construction lead by David Doll, and painting by Kevin O’Dowd. Lighting Designer Chris Hardy streams daylight through the window, glows embers in the fireplace, and impressively employs what is known in the industry as “practicals,” that is, light switches that actually work. Sound Designer Alan Wray uses effects like radio music, doorbell rings, and the shrill shriek of the telephone. The time period (late 1950’s) is best represented through Costume Designer Susan Boyd, who uses crisp business suits for the men, and a selection of chic dresses for the female character, accessorized by mink shawls, elbow-length gloves, sparkly brooches, and lacy headpieces typical of the fashionable period.

The play opens with Margot Wendice (Jenni Patton) chatting in her living room with visitor (and ex-fling) Max Halliday (a fine performance by James Myers) while they wait for her husband Tony (Richard Isaacs) to come home. They discuss Max’s detective writing, but more importantly, their past infidelity, and the guilt and remorse that stems from it. Margot declares that her once loveless marriage and husband has transformed—seemingly overnight becoming kind, attentive, and goal-oriented. Upon her husband’s return, a friendly Tony tells the pair that he unfortunately cannot join them at the theatre because he has to work, and they leave. It turns out, however, that Tony has invited over a friend of his own—ex-acquaintance Captain Lesgate (Jerry Hoffman) whom, due to some researched information, he is able to blackmail into murdering his wife. Tony has planned, down to the last, perfectly timed detail, the perfect murder and alibi…but what happens when wrenches are thrown into the mix? Plot twists, hiccups, and overlooked details thrust Tony onto his toes; is he clever enough to keep up with the ever-changing circumstances? John Henderson plays the cautious Inspector Hubbard, and the two become engaged in a battle of wits and cunning. Who will win?

This dialogue-driven drama creeps into your psyche—with thrills bubbling just beneath the surface, and well-awaited moments of gripping tension that is beautifully performed by the talented cast. Richard Isaacs shows great range with Tony—going from charismatic and charming to thunderous in mere seconds, and Jenni Patton is endearing as his unassuming wife. Jerry Hoffman has a certain chill about his calm, collected demeanor—somehow you know that this is not a virtuous man. John Henderson’s Inspector Hubbard is sneaky and smart—and proves to be a real match for Tony.

Jenni Patton (Margot Wendice). Photo by  Heather Norcross.
Jenni Patton (Margot Wendice). Photo by Heather Norcross.

The well-kept, stealthy pace of this production and wonderful ensemble work is proof of Carla Scopeletis’ solid direction.

Mystery enthusiasts everywhere will find a great night of entertainment in LTA’s  Dial “M” for Murder!

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 5-minute scene change and one 15-minute intermission.

Dial “M” for Murder plays through March 16, 2013 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria—600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call (703) 683-0496, or order them online.

Running time is approximately two and a half hours, including one 5-minute scene change and one 15-minute intermission.