Sacramento Theatre Company: Dial M For Murder

When you "Dial M for Murder" you dial a hit. What great fun! Yes, a murder mystery can have suspense and still have laughs.

The Sacramento Theatre Company has brought back a well-made play from the 1950s, later to be a Hitchcock film, and one of his best. The big star of this evening of fun and mayhem is Matt K. Miller as an aging tennis player afraid of losing his meal ticket wife. On stage Miller looks nothing like his all-American lobby photo so it’s a surprise to see him as a charming Englishman who is so manipulative and villainous.

The overly naive wife, Mrs. Wendice, is played by Jackie Vanderbeck. Poor Jackie is stuck with the simpering, helpless female of the time, but makes the best of it. She starts the play in a white dress with small black polka dots. Oh so fifties, and the hair is in a half page boy with rolls on the sides leaving a space for a hat. The hat comes on when it is time to leave the apartment (we can overlook the lack of gloves since they are just another thing for an actor to drop). Mrs. Wendice then appears in a lavender dress with a peplum. Oh my! Yes, the peplum is back—see page 305 of InStyle, March 2012, with Jennifer Aniston on the cover. A peplum is a short ruffle from the waist over a longer skirt, originally designed to hide Barbara Stanwick’s low slung rump.

And there is Barry Hubbard as the American pulp mystery writer for television. Barry towers over Miller and looks more the athletic type filling the stage quite nicely. It’s to Miller’s credit that he “James Cagney’s it out” with the taller man.

Now we come to the sleazebag Swan. Scott Divine with his thin moustache is the ultimate slime bag. I do love these characters. It’s shades of the Kray Brothers, but poor Swan is not as successful. Swan comes on stage to sell a car not belonging to him and within minutes has seen a way to make money and a killing—the wife. Poor Mrs. Wendice—now it’s two against her: her husband and a good-for-nothing killer.

It's a super play! Everything is clear and cleverly presented. Written by Frederick Knott, the story is certainly entertaining. Director Greg Alexander is strong at keeping a pace, yet making each plot point. Bravo!

There are only "…five important motives for murder: fear, jealousy, money, revenge, and protecting someone you love." All five are represented in the various colorful cast, but you must see it to find for yourself.

Even the usually thick-headed and indifferent police see through the plot. Gary Alan Wright comes on stage full force as the Police Inspector. When we first meet him he sees the case as open and shut. Ahhhh, but later the Inspector comes back with new views of the scene. We in the audience loved it. Thank you Gary the actor—you are so Wright, I mean so right. The big laugh of the play was Officer Thompson, played by Aaron Hitchcock, when he exits with evidence on his arm. You have to see it to understand.

It was the attention to detail that really set the mood for the story. Hats off to costumer McKayla Butym for bringing back memories with appropriate period attire. Especially notable was the 1950s classic gray suit back for the trial time of Mrs. Wendice. "The Gray Suit" was best seen on Kim Novak in Vertigo, but great on stage as well. The set was lovingly designed by Mims Mattair. Red walls—so fifties—and leaves stenciled as an upper border. Perfect. So "the fashion" for these sort of "now" people. Jessica Bertine set mood after mood with well-timed lighting. So much could have gone wrong, and didn't. And there is a Sound Designer, too. William Myers was right on cue with every phone call—and it's the old rotary phone, too.

What a good time in a wonderful theatre space. I got there early, as usual, so had a super chocolate chip cookie for only $1.  Not a bad night out for the money. It’s probably even cheaper than a movie once all the over-priced snacks are added in. Maybe it's time to go back to theatre.

A final note: at long last a Hairstylist is on a theatre Board of Directors.  We know theatre is business, but theatre should also be the right hair style for a time period.  How many times have we seen 1960 and later flowing hair on a Roaring Twenties lady, or on a 1940s female? Thanks to Neil SooHoo for watching from your Board position for these humorous mistakes.

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Written by Ruth Chambers, Visitor Center Concierge

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Dial M for Murder runs through March 25. Tickets are still available.

The Sacramento Theatre Company's season of "mystery, music, and mayhem" continues with Barrymore (March 28-May 6) and Little Shop of Horrors (April 25-May 20).

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