By Marcus Crowder
Frederick Knott's "Dial 'M' for Murder" has become a popular, iconic and much imitated thriller ever since the play first premiered on BBC television in 1952.
The stage version successfully went to both London's West End and New York's Broadway the same year. However, the play was indelibly stamped into the public consciousness through director Alfred Hitchcock's intense 1954 film version which starred Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.
The Sacramento Theatre Company opened its lumpy new production this weekend with a buoyant Matt K. Miller and a graceful Jackie Vanderbeck in the lead roles.
Playwright Knott must have been forever grateful that the cinematic master Hitchcock quickly needed a project to fulfill a contract with Warner Brothers and snapped up his hit play. Knott conceived a fairly tight plot in which an outwardly hapless husband plots to have an old college acquaintance murder his unfaithful wife. Hitchcock significantly elevated the piece with his unerring sense of dramatic detail, upping the intensity through film editing, and the inspired casting of Kelly and Milland.
Here, Miller plays the seemingly care-free Tony Wendice, a former tennis pro turned businessman living happily with his wife, Vanderbeck's Margot Wendice. Margot's former lover, American writer Max Hubbard (Barry Hubbard), has come back into her life, and they still have the same feelings for one another.
Set in the living room of the Wendices' London flat (designed by Mims Mattair), the sluggish early scenes give us the back story while setting the murder plot in motion. Margot and Max reveal their intimacy, and Tony manipulates the vulnerable Capt. Lesgate (Scott Divine). Though Miller has a necessary twinkle in his eye and Vanderbeck an alluring coolness, there's an early shuffling awkwardness in the production until the cast settles.
Gary Alan Wright's careful Inspector Hubbard brings a sharpness and subtle comic flashes to the play's second-half investigation. Director Greg Alexander gradually fixes an inevitable tension to the canny proceedings of this decidedly old-school chestnut.
Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916)321-1120.
Dial 'M' for Murder
What: The Sacramento Theatre Company produces Frederick Knott's iconic murder-for-hire thriller, starring Matt K. Miller, Jackie Vanderbeck and Gary Alan Wright. Greg Alexander directs.
Where: STC's Main Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 25
Tickets: $15-38 (Discounts are available for students, seniors and groups. Rush tickets may be available at half-price one hour prior to each performance.)
Contact: (916) 443-6722, (888) 478-2849, www.sactheatre.org