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Margot Wendice (Cheryl Willis) and husband Tony (Michael Booth) in "Dial M for Murder."

Michal Daniel,

DIAL M FOR MURDER

Who: By Frederick Knott. Directed by Bain Boehlke.

Where: Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sun. Ends March 18.

Tickets: $20-$38. 612-822-7063.

Dial M for tense mystery

  • Article by: LISA BROCK
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • April 16, 2012 - 4:47 PM

"Dial M for Murder" is a high-wire act of a play, offering a blend of suspense and consummate technique that has elicited gasps of astonishment from audiences for 60 years. Jungle Theater's current production (their third in the past 20 years) demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that this old standard retains its ability to enthrall.

This tale of a murder plot gone awry isn't your average mystery. Playwright Frederick Knott makes it quite clear in the first act that handsome ne'er-do-well Tony Wendice intends to get away with the "perfect" murder of his wealthy wife, Margot. But when the accomplice he's blackmailed into doing the deed ends up getting killed instead, impaled on Margot's scissors, Tony is forced to improvise, then improvise again, juggling clues and evidence like tennis balls. It's his audaciously brilliant ability to plot under pressure that's the hook in this play.

Michael Booth offers a masterful interpretation of this dastardly fellow. His Tony is clearly playing at murder as much for love of the sport itself as for any material gain he may receive. He maintains a smoothly charming surface and ironic sense of detachment in the face of every setback, while conveying volumes of calculation through the slightest of gestures or the most miniscule change in facial expression. His adroit ability to turn every misstep to his advantage and to recalibrate almost instantaneously in the face of changing circumstances keeps the pace of this production crackling with tension.

Director Bain Boehlke surrounds Booth with a solid ensemble. Gary Briggle's Inspector Hubbard is the perfect foil, hiding his incisive skills for detection beneath a bumbling, folksy exterior as he doggedly pursues a solution. Peter Moore turns in a nicely modulated performance as the petty con man who becomes unwillingly embroiled in Tony's plot, while Terry Hempleman demonstrates "gee whiz" charm as Margot's American friend and erstwhile love interest. Cheryl Willis starts out a tad too bright and brittle in the first act but quickly relaxes into the role of the victim wife.

The cat-and-mouse game of the play unfolds on a detailed, picture perfect conjuration of an elegant 1950s London flat, created by Boehlke, Sasha Thayer and John Clark Donahue, and warmly lit by Barry Browning. Boehlke's direction is precise, with each configuration of this complex puzzle of a plot crisply sliding into place like clockwork. All in all, Jungle Theater's "Dial M" is as satisfying and deftly executed a piece of high wire work as one could ask for.

Video clip shows a scene from "Silent Night."

 

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