Review: Old Globe’s new adaptation of ‘Dial M for Murder’ moves in a fresh and smart direction
Jeffrey Hatcher kept the famed 1950s thriller in period but has built in updated twists that heighten the stakes for many characters
In Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of the 1950s thriller “Dial M for Murder,” a crime novelist describes the five reasons why people commit murder: Money, fear, jealousy, revenge and the desire to protect someone you love.
All five come into play in Hatcher’s clever, funny and fast-paced script, which made its world premiere Thursday, July 28 in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Even if you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film adaptation of the Frederick Knott teleplay, you’ll want to see this smartly updated adaptation that has many surprise twists.
Hatcher has kept the play in its original period — 1950s London — but has trimmed some of the outdated language and tightened up overlong speeches of plot exposition. But his most intriguing changes are the gender of the third character in the story’s love triangle and the central character’s occupation — both of which heighten the stakes for the play’s characters.
In Knott’s script, Tony is a retired tennis pro living off his socialite wife Margot’s family money. But when Tony discovers Margot has had an affair with Mark, an American thriller novelist, he crafts an intricate plan to kill her for her fortune (his plot goes awry with deadly results, but I won’t spoil it here). In Hatcher’s update, Mark has become Maxine, and Tony is a failed writer relegated to working as Maxine’s book publicist. Layered throughout Hatcher’s script are nuggets of voice-over by Maxine on how thriller-writing involves the gradual buildup of suspense — something Hatcher achieves in this taut new play.
In the 1950s, women had little agency or independence, so Knott’s Margot was placid and easily outwitted. In Hatcher’s play, Margot is smarter and more complex. The introduction of Maxine — a whip-smart bisexual who’s usually one step ahead of Tony — is a refreshing change. And the women’s then-forbidden love affair brings out a misogynist bent in the play’s police inspector Hubbard, who is all too happy to believe Margot is the depraved criminal.
Nathan Darrow, who memorably played a conflicted Secret Service agent on TV’s “House of Cards,” is excellent in the role of Tony, layering his subtle performance with shades of resentment, wounded pride, anxiety and the preening confidence that he has constructed the perfect murder. Kate Abbruzzese brings an icy reserve to Margot that gradually melts during the two-hour, 10 minute play. As Maxine, Ruibo Qian steals her scenes with dry comic wit. John Tufts — who memorably played three comic roles in the Globe’s recent “Taming of the Shrew” — brings a light comic touch to inspector Hubbard, and Ruy Iskandar slyly shape-shifts in the mysterious role of Lesgate.
Director Stafford Arima strategically moves the play’s characters around the square stage like smartly dressed chess pieces. Big clue reveals are often punctuated with flashy bars of colored light designed by Amanda Zieve. Sound designer Leon Rothenberg heightens the tension with realistic offstage sound effects and interscene bursts of nerve-jangling bebop jazz. And Ryan Park’s lush period costumes take into account the in-the-round staging, with interesting design details on the back of the women’s dresses.
“Dial M” lives up to its reputation as midcentury thriller, but seen through Hatcher’s fresh eyes, it’s also timeless.
‘Dial M for Murder’
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 28
Where: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, the Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Tickets: $30 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
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