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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

'M for Murder' a Good Call

April 02, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

STANTON — There are plots, and then there are plots. Frederick Knott's plot for "Dial M for Murder" is both a lot of heavy lifting and a truly elegant piece of craftsmanship that holds up more than 40 years after its premiere and Alfred Hitchcock's faithful 1954 film adaptation (also by Knott).

Not a whodunit but a will-he-get-away-with-it, "Dial M" is a challenge because it is dated and because the principals have to keep their heads and keep the plot together.

More often than not, director John Craig and his cast at Stanton Community Theatre do. Jealousy drives former British tennis champ Tony (Richard June) to arrange the murder of wife, Margo (Monica Suter), who is carrying on an affair with Marc (Ed Kirkland), an American writer who specializes in murder mysteries. Tony, it appears, has hatched the perfect crime with the aid of a shadowy fellow named Lesgate (Drew Van Wie), on whom Tony has some blackmail.

Knott's trick is that Tony must replace the perfect crime, which goes terribly wrong, with the perfect cover-up, which may send Margo to the gallows, achieving Tony's goal after all.

This is the skeleton; the fun of "Dial M" is in watching what Tony does, how Marc tries to figure out his moves and how the perspicacious investigator, Inspector Hubbard (Nick Fahl), deconstructs the crime.

It's a battle between three smart men, and the art of Knott (whose "Wait Until Dark" is having a rewritten Broadway revival starring Quentin Tarantino) is getting the audience to suspend certainty of the outcome until just before curtain.

Craig keeps the action in Tony and Margo's living room moving, marred only by inexplicably long pauses between scenes that lessen the tension. As the woman wrongly accused, Suter ably provides the show's emotional center and is one of the few cast members concerned with having a British accent.

June's suave exterior conveys Tony's conniving coldness, but he misses sly bits of humor and irony. Kirkland generates strong heat as he begins to suspect that Tony is up to no good, which is exactly what Fahl fails to do as the probing Hubbard. Van Wie adds a slightly creepy presence as Lesgate.

As with most community theater productions, details have been overlooked. The lack of accents is simply wrong and disconcerting, and a key piece of evidence meant to burn up in a fireplace merely lies there.

Still, the play's mechanics, and its elegant display of the idea that "character is action," come across with smooth confidence.

BE THERE

"Dial M for Murder," Stanton Community Center, 7800 Katella Ave. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. (714) 879-8044 or (909) 845-1053. $6-$8. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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