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Florida Rep presents ‘Dial M for Murder’

By Staff | Dec 11, 2009

Florida Rep’s current production of Fredrick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder” starts out with the theme music from “The Alfred Hitchcock Show,” alerting one and all that we are in for an enjoyable evening of murder and mystery. This well-written 1952 classic has an ingenious, if unlikely, plot (performed here as a period piece) with a timely set by Robert Wolin, costumes by Roberta Mallcolm and Janelle Turco, and lively, convincing actors sporting high-toned English accents that even the Brits would classify as being “spot on.”

This very English play is not Shakespeare; instead, it is a tightly written mystery in which the mystery isn’t whodunnit or why – the audience is told all that up front – the riddle is rather how anyone will prove it.

Producing Artistic Director Robert Cacioppo has done a fascinating job with this classic story He has the five main characters on the stage lay out as much as possible of each character’s background and quirks, their conflicts and clues, so as to quickly establish the emotional moodiness lying beneath the surface – so much the style of these 1950s British mystery plays.

Giles Davies, making his Florida Rep debut as Tony Wendice, plays a jealous ex-tennis professional who suspects his wealthy wife Margot (Deanna Gibson) of having an affair. Dastard that he is, he’s planning on doing her in so he can inherit all her cash. He reveals to the audience his meticulous plans, all thought out to the minutest detail, which will then be executed with no room for even the slightest error. But, as we all know, the best laid plans can fail, leading to some startling improvisations and skillful skullduggery that go way beyond the pale.

Davies’ portrayal of evil husband with Jekyll/Hyde personality is most skillful. He is equally convincing either as the smarmy husband with the polished airs when interacting with the other characters or, when alone, letting us, the audience, get a glimpse of what is really going on in his nasty little mind.

Gibson plays Margot, the wandering manipulated wife, with the ditzy vulnerability of a damsel in distress while at her wits’ end. Both Wendices show off nice British accents, while Brendon Powers’ Max Halliday doesn’t need an accent since Halliday is an American mystery playwright. Powers presents his character with an earnest, crisp and creditable likeability. Jesse St. Louis made a fine, suitably scary Florida Rep debut as the killer-for-hire character, Captain Lesgate.

But it was Tad Ingram’s Inspector Hubbard that most shifted the tone of the play for me from a mystery to a sophisticated comedy. Ingram subtly devised ways to wring some humor out of his character. He made the inspector’s almost paranoid trait for repeatedly going back to the same minute details in search of inconsistencies in a rational and genuine, yet humorous, manner. You might say it was a respectful “today” take on the classic version of a 1950s English Inspector.

Kudos to Cacioppo for keeping the audience members at the edges of their seats – especially since we knew from the start what the villain had in store for his victim. Cacioppo still managed to keep us guessing up ’til the very end. Thanks, too, for not making this a contemporary adaptation but instead honoring this classic play – dated and firmly set in the 1950s as it is – by staying true to that style. That was what gave this production of “Dial M for Murder” its charm.

So, if you wish to be transported back in time for a tale of ruse, trickery, and chilling suspense with just a dash of witty humor, pick up your phone and dial the Florida Rep box office at 332-4488. But you’d better hurry since “Dial M for Murder” only plays till Sunday, Dec. 20th.

And when you phone, remind ’em Marsha sent you!