Review: DIAL M FOR MURDER Is A Blast At The Alley Theatre

A deliciously dark comedy about the deadliest sin of them all!

By: Jun. 10, 2024
Review: DIAL M FOR MURDER Is A Blast At The Alley Theatre
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The Alley Theatre is having a great time with DIAL M FOR MURDER. It’s a crowd-pleasing, campy thriller that kicks off the summer with a fierce combination of exceptional design and tongue-in-cheek acting brilliance. This is not ground-breaking literary drama, but gosh darn, it is fun! Although their official summer chiller will be the upcoming, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE from Agatha Christie, this Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of a Frederick Knott work could substitute just fine. It’s a somewhat new spin on an old tale, so even if you are a Hitchcock aficionado, don’t expect the exact same Grace Kelly ride. Which is smart because who wants to compete with Alfred and Grace? 

The setup is insanely simple. A woman is having an affair, and she is being blackmailed over an arduous letter that was stolen from her. Her husband is behind it and has conspired with a criminal friend to off her so he can inherit a fortune. There is an elaborate plan to strangle the wife while the husband is notably out of the apartment, and he will call to hear that the deed is done. Nothing goes as planned, though, and the “perfect murder” takes radical twists and turns that get bigger and wilder as the play progresses. 

Most people don’t realize, but Hitchcock actually sourced a lot of his material from stage productions. DIAL M FOR MURDER was a theatrical thriller rejected many times before becoming a hit onstage in 1952 in houses in London’s West End and migrating to Broadway. Hitchcock made the film in 1954 using Grace Kelly and employed color and a 3D process that wasn’t often used to screen this film. It was a gimmick or a trick, so we have a rather famous incarnation of this piece that relied on stunts. Over the years, the play has been adapted and revised often. 1998’s A PERFECT MURDER, starring Michael DouglasViggo Mortensen, and Gwenyth Paltrow, is one such adaptation. It has been done on television numerous times and revived pretty frequently. The original’s English author and playwright Frederick Knott was a brilliant author of thrillers, and his work includes WAIT UNTIL DARK and WRITE ME A MURDER. 

THE ALLEY THEATER has opted for a recent 2022 adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, an American stage writer known for his mastery of thrillers and murder mysteries. He has written plays for Sherlock Holmes and adapted a radical spin on DR. JEKYLL AND MR.HYDE. What Hatcher does here is take the lover of the wife and turn him from Max into Maxine, creating a lesbian storyline. Also, the husband's profession is altered to involve him in business with his wife’s lover. He tangles the web tighter and adds dialogue to make the women a bit more clever. He also adds deliciously campy lines that the actors eat up and deliver with aplomb. Does making the wife and her lover lesbians do anything radical to the plot? No. Is it fun? Yes. This production mines comedy just as much as it does any anxiety as if it knows and winks at the audience that this is a silly concept, but we’re going there full-tilt boogie. 

This cast is having a blast! Teresa Zimmermann does the glamorous turn of an adulterous wife, Margot Wendice. She gets the best costumes, the greatest wigs, and the juiciest staging of the entire evening. She pulls off comedy and terror with equal precision. Her murderous spouse, Tony, is played by Brandon Hearnsberger, who practically squeals with joy anytime anything goes his way in his dark plotting. He absolutely chews the set, and it’s a hoot to watch him improvise his murder plot. Geena Quintos plays the no-nonsense murder mystery-writing lesbian Maxine. She’s achingly calculated and placid at the same time. Dylan Godwin is a perfect villain in his slimy portrayal of Lesgate. Todd Waite steals the second act ably as a Scotland Yard detective who ironically yearns to be like Sherlock Holmes (one of the actor’s most famous roles at THE ALLEY). He’s so dryly funny and mines comedy out of a coat admirably. 

The tech is jaw-dropping. Director Tatiana Pandiani brilliantly juxtaposes the acting with the technical components, and wow, is this a slick production. It is indeed the full 3-D experience that comes to technicolor life. The set is a gorgeous take on London 50s Mid-Century Modern. I would love to live here, although I could do without the ginormous windows on either side of that front door. They do add drama and dread, though! This lush space feels rich and period-appropriate. Marcelo Martinez Garcia makes this penthouse a fourth character, including a couch comically overstuffed with secrets. Yuki Nakase Link’s lighting is insanely effective and adds much to the proceedings. A light-up blood-red MURDER sign comes in and out of the scene, adding a neon-noir punch at prophetic moments. Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound design is at the next level, integrating a cinematic score and a radio show that takes over at a dramatic point. I couldn’t believe my ears! Rodrigo Munoz’s costumes are sublime and evoke the era strongly with a sense of elegance. The design team here stole the show, and it is some of the best-looking theatre you will see in Houston or anywhere else. 

The Sunday night audience for DIAL M FOR MURDER  roared to their feet after all was said and done, and I bet this happens all the time. This is a charming production with plenty of technical eye candy and sublime campy takes on characters. These kinds of shows fit what The Alley Theatre does best: entertain and thrill us with a summer mystery. Everyone is set to have a marvelously good time. I can’t see you going wrong with this one to get you out of the heat for a couple of hours and into ‘50s London, where the weather is terribly rainy, and murder is in the air! 

DIAL M FOR MURDER runs through June 30th on the mainstage or Hubbard Theatre. The show runs about two hours and fifteen minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission. The second act moves much quicker than the first and clocks in under an hour. Even though the subject is murder, there’s no real gore or blood to speak of. Lighting effects can be intense; sometimes, they rely on a strobe effect to replicate thunder or add dramatic pulses. 

Photograph is provided by Lynn Lane and featured Teresa Zimmermann (right) and  Geena Quintos (left). 


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