LIVE: Dial “M” For Murder @ The Ghent Playhouse, Ghent [Gail Sez]

Both Margot Wendice (Jill Wanderman) and "Captain Lesgate" (Neal Berntson) have a weapon and a motive in Dial 'M' for Murder

Both Margot Wendice (Jill Wanderman) and "Captain Lesgate" (Neal Berntson) have a weapon and a motive in Dial 'M' for Murder

A director! A director! My kingdom for a director! Where’s Alfred Hitchcock when you need him? He’s dead, I know. But John Trainor, who did a bang-up job directing Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark at the Ghent Playhouse in 2007 was right there on the stage, playing yet another police detective. But it doesn’t take any special CSI training to figure out who killed this production. Florence Hayle – j’accuse!

Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Knott’s 1952 thriller, has been a favorite on stage and screen for nearly sixty years. It is not a “Whodunnit?” but a “Will s/he get away with it?” and it’s a darned good one. Well played and well directed it should be fun to watch the character who has plotted the murder break into a cold sweat as the “perfect crime” goes awry, then nearly burst with glee when a second error turns the tables on the intended victim.

But Hayle’s direction is so ponderous that the play feels like nothing but exposition and scenery changes. Because this is a thriller, when the lights go out and shadowy figures glide about the stage, it is easy to assume that something essential to the plot is going on, rather than that an ashtray is being emptied and the whiskey decanter is being moved from the coffee table to the sideboard. Couldn’t a silent servant character have done that prop work in full light – even as scenes ended? This past summer at the Theater Barn, Allen Phelps used the butler character in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (another murder mystery in which Trainor appeared, but this time NOT as a detective!) that way to good effect. Just because Knott didn’t write in a servant doesn’t mean that the Wendices don’t have one – in fact Margot Wendice mentions a charwoman who comes in. Let her come in and rearrange the props! It would save considerable time.

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