Rep’s ‘Dial M For Murder’ Adds New Twists
Jeffrey Hatcher’s clever new adaptation gets strong acting and powerful second act.
Author Frederick Knott’s Broadway play in 1952 was quickly grabbed by Alfred Hitchcock for his famous Dial M for Murder movie, which not only used a Hollywood top cast (Grace Kelly, Bob Cummings, Ray Milland) but stuck close enough to the original play to cast the same urbane British actor as Scotland Yard Inspector Hubbard to galvanize the conclusion. (This was a popular character actor whom the Internet has not been kind to since databases mistakenly use a photo of famed Spielberg composer John Williams for the John Williams who won a Tony in this role).
That’s after the Milwaukee Rep spends too much of the first act trying to be oh-so-British in the 1950s before arriving full bore into capturing our attention. That first act leads Amanda Drinkall as the threatened wife and Lipica Shah as her former lover to over-signal the lesbian relation (as if the audience can’t figure it out) and over-trill the Britishisms. Basically they flood us with contrary interplay while trying to manage props.
Perhaps they were seduced into 1950s acting methods by the ultra posh London flat loaded with bric-a-brac so sumptuously created by scenic designer Arnold Bueso (with period-interesting costumes draped by Alexander B. Tecoma).
Director Laura Braza and the Hatcher adaptation hit their stride in the second act, which engrosses like a psychological thriller should, but I should also point out an acrobatic fight scene choreographed by Christopher Elst in the first act between the wife in a nightgown and the would-be blackmailer-murderer. He is nimbly played by Alex Weisman as an overly assured self-deluder who is not as smart as he thinks.
The second act also brings a needed burst of brusquer pacing and driving motivation from an Inspector Hubbard quite different than the movie but as important to the audience sense of taking sides. Rep veteran Jonathan Wainwright turns Hubbard into a policeman who is pushy and even a bit gruff, a no-nonsense style that awakens the play to the sort of speed and sense of combat required.
The audience wisdom of that old devil Hitchcock rears its head. How will the husband improvise when his plot goes wrong and how can the good guy keep up? That seesawing suspense keeps the production’s mystery going through December 17 on the Milwaukee Rep’s mainstage.
Dial M for Murder Gallery
Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blogs
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