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A complicated thriller gets a thrilling staging

Geva's "Dial M for Murder" 

Dial M for Murder | through October 1 | GevaTheatreCenter, 75 Woodbury Boulevard, 232-GEVA, www.gevatheatre.org | $14.50-$53.50.

M is for "Murder" (and "Murder" is for me)

Could you execute the perfect murder? Could you predict any possible slip up? Would you miss one small detail --- the detail that would lead to your downfall?

You're a rich British housewife, your husband is a successful professional tennis player who is constantly on tour, and you're having a stellar affair with an American. What could go wrong?

When Max Halliday, Margot Wendice's secret lover, returns to America, he mails his love via letter. For Margot, everything begins to spin out of control when the only letter that she didn't burn is stolen. When she receives a ransom note demanding 50 quid or face the affair being exposed to her husband, she anxiously obliges. But the letter never appears.
Coincidentally, Margot's hubby, Tony, up and quits the courts. It's not at all suspicious that Tony would give up a life of jet-setting and sports glory for the terrific life of a retail sports equipment salesman. But, things are looking up. Margot's model husband has finally arrived.

When Halliday reappears in London, Margot introduces him to Tony as an acquaintance. With Margot out on the town with Max, Tony stays home to set into motion a plan that has been a year in the making.

In Geva's production of Dial M for Murder, there is, of course, a murder. The plot twists and turns, accompanied by lots of heart-pounding anticipation. But don't go looking for a mystery. You'll be lead step-by-step through the scheming, the bribery, the attack, and the murder. No detail is left unexplained.

The detail, in fact, is so minute that it is difficult to digest. There is so much, so quickly that it becomes overwhelming. Here's a little taste: a college acquaintance with multiple identities stalked by a greedy husband, a hidden affair, an illicit love letter, ransom notes, a hidden key, an elaborate alibi, a planted murder weapon, and a death sentence.

It's a thriller. And the music, composed by Gregg Coffin (what beautiful irony), is responsible for inspiring the thrill. As the show opens, sharp, stabbing chords a la Psycho screech over a rumbling bass. The music jumps in at key moments, alerting the audience to pay close attention.

The first act, which seemed twice as long as the second, could have used a bit more of Coffin's touch. It's a marathon of exposition. The detail in and of itself is interesting, especially when you're attempting to suss out the clues. However, director Tim Ocel has actors performing long blocks of stage business --- scurrying around the set turning lights on and off, clearing dishes, hanging coats and hats only to un-hang and dress in them minutes later. Although some of this is necessary, each time another cocktail is prepared, unnecessary seconds tick away.

Taking on Margot Wendice, the distraught and clueless wife, is Rachel Fowler. With a quiet innocence, Fowler manages to gain the audience's sympathy despite her infidelity. And when it comes to crying on cue, the waterworks flow. With Ted Deasy playing her duplicitous husband, Fowler faces a formidable foe. Deasy moves flawlessly between doting husband and slimy conspirator.

Max Halliday seems merely a character of necessity. He delivers essentials like the five reasons for committing murder: jealousy, money, revenge, protection, and fear. He's there to establish the conventions of the suspense thriller. But it is in the second act, when Bill Doyle as Max makes a desperate attempt to save his lady love, that Max becomes the hero. Doyle imbues his performance with such urgency that the audience can't help but fall for him.

Although there are certainly more thought-provoking and suspenseful thrillers to be seen, Dial M for Murder affords a nice little buzz of excitement. So, pick up that phone and dial Geva for tickets.

  • A complicated thriller gets a thrilling staging

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