Dial M For Murder is Simply to Die For at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis

Production Photo for

Dial M For Murder opened Friday evening with a newly adapted script by local favorite Jeffrey Hatcher from the original play by Frederick Knott. Knott also wrote the screenplay for the Famous Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation. For those curious, I am happy to report that like the Hitchcock film, this new adaptation is also presented in 3D. Hatcher keeps the basics of the original work but adds several twists that make the play feel more modern though it retains the original 1950’s London period setting. Normally with a thriller I’d be hesitant to give anything away, and I still intend to keep most things under wraps. But, unlike an Agatha Christie story, this isn’t really a whodunnit, it’s more like a Columbo episode. You know who the criminal is very early on, the thrills come from seeing how his plan comes off and how he adapts when things don’t go according to plan. The piece I won’t spoil is a sequence that Hatcher inserts during the commission of the crime,it doesn’t change Knotts basic plot but it adds another layer of suspicions, and it’s a ingenious little twist. 

David Andrew Macdonald as Tony, he’s the perfect marriage of actor and role.

The plot revolves around Tony Wendices plot to have an old acquaintance murder his wife after having discovered she had an affair with a writer that ended a year previous. One major change is a gender swap of the former lover from Max to Maxine. He also changes the professions of Tony and Maxine which adds another dimension to Tony’s motivations. For those keeping track, we are now up to four dimensions if my math checks out. Probably Hatchers greatest contribution is an injection of humor into the script, not so much as to feel out of place but just the perfect amount to add to the overall enjoyment of the piece. Bringing out that humor perfectly is the performance by David Andrew Macdonald as Tony, he’s the perfect marriage of actor and role. Macdonald’s choices all work, his timing and line readings are impeccable. More than any other actor on the stage he seems to be on the same wavelength as Hatcher and it’s a key to this productions success. Since we know who the villain is, the thrills come from whether or not he’ll be found out. Our investment is increased by the fact that we are so entertained by Macdonald, we find ourselves feeling anxious that he’ll get caught, when our sense of justice should be rooting for him to be. Gretchen Egolf plays Margot Tony’s wife and Lori Vega the ex-lover Maxine, Egolf plays the role straight laced, which works well with her motivations to withhold information from other characters while Vega, playing an American is more vibrant and hip. Brian Thomas Abraham gives an intelligent performance as Inspector Hubbard making piecing together the crime feel like effective reasoning even when it’s wrong, you can see why it seems correct to him. Continuing the trend of three named actors is Peter Christian Hansen as Lesgate the old schoolmate of Tony’s whose persuaded to murder Margot. Nice to see a local actor in a show that seems full of imports, and Hansen is, as always an asset to any production.

Tracy Brigden does a nice tight job of direction, everything is clear, she gives the audience the time to watch the characters work out what to do next but never a second more than is necessary. The staging of the murder is particularly effective, the deadly blow being executed very effectively and also providing us with a few jump inducing moments. Just listening to the opening night audiences reactions, the oohs and ahhs and the laughter it’s clear that Hatcher and Brigden had the audience in the palms of their hands. I’m so glad that Hatcher kept the time period of the play in the 50’s, it allowed for a beautifully retro aesthetic. From the wonderful set by Walt Spangler to the gorgeous costumes by Valerie Therese Bart, it captures the look of a 50’s era Hitchcock film. I also noticed in a good way, the lighting design by Xavier Pierce which wonderfully set the mood of the scenes especially well done was the stormy night of the murder which featured some great sound design from John Gromada as well. Dial M for Murder is a murderously entertaining production filled with twists and turns and just the right proportion of humor peppered throughout. Dial M for Murder runs through February 25th at the Guthrie Theater for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.guthrietheater.org/shows-and-tickets/2023-2024-season/dial-m-for-murder/

Production Photo: Dan Norman

In case you missed it I had the opportunity last summer to interview Jeffrey Hatcher for the Twin Cities Theater Chat Podcast you can listen to that conversation here https://twincitiestheaterchat.buzzsprout.com/2150807/13157328

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Headshot of Rob Dunkelberger
Rob Dunkelberger

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content www.thestagesofmn.com