Quote of the Day: While Knott authored only a few plays, he quickly demonstrated his mastery of the use of both suspense and the uncanny to provide a thriller that continues to inspire audiences over 50 years later. Kristen Tregar, in Dial M for Masterpiece: The Ingredients of an Exceptional Thriller, printed in the playbill at the Guthrie Theater for their production of Dial M for Murder, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the original by Frederick Knott, directed by Tracy Brigden.
After reading the above article, I realized that I incorrectly called Dial M for Murder a murder mystery. It’s not. In a murder mystery, we spend time trying to figure out whodunnit, with a big reveal at the end. In a thriller, we know who the criminal is early on, and what is supposed to happen. We also know that something will go awry. We spend the time wondering if the criminal will get away with it, or if they’ll get caught. Suspense rises, along with our heartrates, as we see the victim falling into the trap. Thrillers are atmospheric, sending us into an uncomfortable space for a while, and holding our breaths for the potential victims as well as wondering how they’ll all get out of the mess they’re in. Dial M does this very well. The whole (nearly sold out) audience, seemed to be on the edge of their seats.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve seen a stage production of this play, so I can’t speak to very many changes as to the details of the play from Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation. He says, “My first challenge was making Dial M for Murder current without changing the time period.” Since the old-fashioned phone, and how people communicated in the 1950’s is quite different from today, he kept the show firmly planted in the 1950’s. But, he upped the stakes for the characters, making Mrs. Wendice’s affair to be with a woman, not a man, as in the original. Not only that, the woman is a novelist, and he changed Mr. Wendice’s career to be that of a failed novelist who is now a publicist who is representing his wife’s lover. It makes the plot even more complex and interesting, adding in the taboo of a lesbian relationship during those times.
Only five characters populate this play. Gretchen Egolf as Margot Wendice, the target, is stunning. She wears a gorgeous red dress in the opening scene, reminiscent of a style worn by Grace Kelly in her films, with matching shoes, and all the wealthy airs. Her lover is Maxine Hadley, played by Lori Vega with a strong presence and quick wit. She studies the situation with the eye of a writer who writes about murder and mayhem.
David Andrew Macdonald plays Gretchen’s conniving husband, Tony Wendice. He was brilliant at showing his conflicting emotions, saying one thing, while meaning another. We know what he knows, and what he’s done, but he thinks he’s pulling the wool over the eyes of his wife and the inspector, and everyone else. His power of manipulation sends a chill down your spine. Tony’s old schoolmate Lesgate (Peter Christian Hansen) is in on the plot, but he’s also self-serving, and makes a few mistakes. Brian Thomas Abraham was wonderful as Inspector Hubbard. I loved how sneaky he was in discovering evidence and trying to get inside the heads of the people involved in the plot. This show is brilliantly cast!
Jeffrey Hatcher has crafted a wonderful adaptation of this classic play by Frederick Knott. He brings us into the story quickly, enhancing the characters, their relationships, and the stakes in the game. The set, designed by Walt Spangler, is an elegant London apartment in the 1950’s, with much attention to detail. Oh, and pay attention, it’s used well in the play, as well as props, especially the telephone! Elegant costumes by Valérie Thérèse Bart are to die for! The ladies are in stunning dresses and outfits that match perfectly, and of course, men in that era in suits and sporty looks. Lighting design by Xavier Pierce adds so much to creating mood and focus. John Gromada did the sound design and composer with perfect music to underscore this production, and wonderfully atmospheric.
You can see this brilliant production of Dial M for Murder at the Guthrie Theater through Feb. 25, 2024.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: What would be a good setting for a thriller? And, who would you want to go to a scary show with you?