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Murder Most Foul

   Tony has the motive. His beautiful and rich wife, Margot, was fooling around with an anonymous American. Why not have her killed and live off the inheritance?

   He has the means. He blackmails an old college chum — one whom he knows to be amoral — into committing the crime.  

   He has the alibi. He will attend a stag party, with his wife's former fling in tow and surrounded by friends. While he's out, the murderer will simply let himself in and complete his task.

   What could go wrong?

   So begins Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, onstage at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through November 10. Written by Frederick Knott and adapted for film by Hitchcock in 1954, Dial M is one of the most famous mysteries of all time. Its fame, however, does not lessen the intrigue or hamper the momentum of the Maltz's stellar production.

   It starts off on the rocks, both literally and metaphorically. The play opens with Margot Wendice (Claire Brownell) sharing a drink with her one-time love Max (Jim Ballard), who is visiting London and has come to spend the evening with Margot and her former-tennis-star husband. Max and Margot called it quits more than a year ago and now feel ready to continue as friends. They don't plan on sharing their past indiscretions with Tony, but, as they will come to find out, he already knows.

Claire Brownell as Margot and Jim Ballard as Max in Dial M for Murder. Photo by Alicia Donelan.

   Brownell and Ballard do a fine job in their roles, though they take some time to ease into them. In the first scene, it feels as if they're wearing their characters much like masks: putting on the facade of former lovers, exaggerating certain moments and — in Brownell's case — overselling a British accent.

   The entire show gets a burst of energy when Tony (Todd Allen Durkin) enters, energy that crescendos as the play progresses.

 Todd Allen Durkin as Todd in Dial M for Murder. Photo by Alicia Donelan.

   Durkin is a delight as the hateful husband. On the surface, he's a prim and proper Englishman, a sweater-vested, rosy-cheeked, brandy-drinking gentleman. Dim the lights, however, and he becomes a slimy villain. Even his ever-so-slight lisp lends a level of menace to his blatant lies and cheeky breaks of the fourth wall.

   Collin McPhillamy, who plays the cunning Chief Inspector Hubbard, is the other standout of the production. His figure bears a striking resemblance to that of Alfred Hitchcock, a trait put to good use in a hilarious play of light and shadow. Beyond his physique, McPhillamy acts as the ultimate foil, undermining every lie with strong comedic timing. Divert your eyes to peek at the program and you'll be five steps behind his logic.

   Behind the scenes, Director J. Barry Lewis handles the foreshadowing with finesse and succeeds in squeezing the comedic moments for every laugh without allowing his actors to become hammy. It is Lewis' direction that keeps this play in the realm of the plausible. Push too far and it becomes a farce; play it too safe and the character nuances are lost. Lewis got it just right.

   One final shout out to Scenic Artist Sage Neighbors: In addition to having a very cool name, her set is flawless. The Wendice's London flat reeks of midcentury money, layered with antiques and pristinely organized, and little details, like the burning fireplace, do not go unnoticed. Bravo.

   By the final scene, all of the pieces that make this play great, from the performances to the technical design, are in perfect harmony. This thriller is not built upon a big aha moment, but rather a series of twists and turns that converge to create a very satisfying ending. So, whether you've seen the Hitchcock film a hundred times or are new to the story, Dial M for Murder is a rousing — and potentially deadly — evening of theater.


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