By CHUCK GRAHAM
The most fun thing about British playwright Frederick Knott’s classic theater murder mystery “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” is that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, watching it is still a kick. Back in 1954 none other than Alfred Hitchcock turned the play into a popular movie starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. Refresh your memory by renting the DVD.
That’s so you can check out Live Theatre Workshop’s new production using Knott’s script, which wasn’t changed that much in Hitchcock’s film. Jeremy Thompson is directing the LTW production. Stephen Frankenfield is cast as the oily tennis star Tony Wendice who wants to bump off his annoying wife Margot (Dana Armstrong).
But the perfect murder plan takes a little unexpected bumping from the fickle finger of coincidence when Tony’s shady college classmate, Capt. Lesgate (Chuck Rankin) gets involved. Enter the intrepid Inspector Hubbard (Bruce Bieszki), who is encouraged by Margot’s true love Max (Kevin Lucero Less).
Is the tangled plot coming back to you now?
What makes it fun is how Knott’s script doesn’t depend on mystery but on cleverness. Nobody can remember all the details that rustle up like leaves before the shuffling footsteps of justice, predicting the defeat of evil. Recognizing each plot element as it pops up stirs the same childlike sweetness of remembering the favorite details in some long ago bedtime story.
Who among us hasn’t wanted to commit the perfect murder at sometime or other, anyway? In modern times the evil deed would be foiled by an unexpected cell phone call. Or the unraveling of computer code to disclose an e-mail pointing its accusation straight at the perpetrator.
Ahh, but 60 years ago in a barely functioning London of the early 1950s, there was scarcely any telephone service. Lots of people didn’t own a car. Coincidence was more common, too. A man who lived by his wits, such as a tennis star in the era before television turned tennis stars into celebrity products, was envied for his talent.
Populist resentment of such smug talent (and athletic ability) is what pulls the audience into this tantalizing sweet-sour combination of admiring Tony’s chutzpa for attempting the perfect murder while hating him for pulling it off. But he doesn’t quite pull it off, does he?
Like the cornered cockroach brilliant in its ability to escape, Tony’s quickness keeps him one step ahead of the law. Sure we know Tony will get his eventually, but how the heck does it happen?
if you go
What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” by Frederick Knott.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday through March 20.
Where: 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Tickets: $13-$15. All tickets for preview shows Feb. 10-11 are $10. For reservations, call 327-4242.