There’s nothing like a good murder mystery, but here’s one we don’t have to solve — we just watch in utter angst. Flat Rock Playhouse evokes an old Hollywood feeling with Dial M For Murder by Frederick Knott, showing on the main stage through Saturday, Nov. 11.
Unless you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film of the same name, staring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, you won’t know exactly where the play is taking you at first. Max and Margot (played by Willie Repoley and Vivian Smith) have decided to break off their affair a little too late. It seems Margot’s husband Tony (Scott Treadway) found their love letter and has fashioned an intricate plot to kill Margot by hiring a hit man (Michael MacCauley). When the murder is botched, Tony must quickly conceal his wrongdoings. But can he outwit the sly Detective Hubbard (Peter Thomasson)?
Treadway’s powerhouse performance owns this exhilarating production. Often the novelty charmer, he proves the strength and importance of casting against type. Behind his smile, a diabolic coldness infiltrates the character. Treadway is so compelling he almost wins us over, and we find ourselves routing for the enemy. It’s a pleasure to see him in roles like this, with more meat under the gravy. He’s truly sensational.
Thomasson impresses by adding quirkiness to the detective. With impeccably timed savvy, he stirs the adrenaline. The script does not give his character much depth, but that isn’t the focus in crime dramas of this nature.
The same could be said of Smith’s character, but, as the quintessential damsel-in-distress, she more than rises to the occasion. She has the visual flare of Kim Novak in Vertigo but is less haunted. In the latter part of the play, Smith exhibits a downtrodden, disheveled beauty whose life is literally on the line. What if, though, she played the role with more of a bad-girl quality? Then the story would become fresher, giving Treadway more levity. The play would be a sort of game cooked up by husband and wife. The fate of the ending would then be an intriguing struggle to decipher. Regardless, Smith does justice to the role.
MacCauley portrays, with skill, a man still teetering on the edge of a life of crime. Whenever MacCauley sinks back into the scene, he grabs hold of something natural and searing. The slow-burn realization that he’s being blackmailed is extremely well finessed, and stirs the thought in our minds: What would we do if put in the same circumstances?
Always a pleasure to see, onstage, is the dashing Repoley. He naturally emotes a vintage feeling that aids this production. Repoley manages to ground his jaded character in innocence, despite secret spaghetti dinners with Margot.
Director Angie Flynn-McIver effectively polishes this production. The challenge with Dial M For Murder lies in the suspense of what we already know. Flynn-McIver uses intellectual fear to fight predictability in the plot. However, while seamless, a struggle on a desk still could have been amped-up.
Kurt Conway’s frightening sound design is a triumphant standout. Meghan Dougherty’s clever lighting fades us into a flickering fireplace between transitions. The costume design by Zach Morrison slaps us in the face with Margot’s red hot dress. He then flawlessly wilts Margot’s colors away as the play progresses. The terrific cast is allowed to stand out against scenic designer Dennis C. Maulden’s dim walls.
Dial M For Murder grabs hold of us and doesn’t easily let go, rattling the chains of Hitchcock in an honorable way. Here’s hoping Flat Rock Playhouse incorporates more thrillers into its future seasons.
WHAT: Dial M For Murder
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, flatrockplayhouse.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Nov. 11. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $15-$50