Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Complex Intrigue of ‘Dial M for Murder’ Clicks in New London

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Some plays simply endure. With “Dial M for Murder,” all the cat-and-mouse stuff does the trick.

A guy plots to murder his wife, who he has been living off of (well) and who happens to have been messin’ around. The guy blackmails one of his old college classmates to do the deed. Shucks, the wife kills the blackmailed fellow as he is attempting the deed. And, through the maneuverings of the husband, SHE is charged and found guilty of murder and is headed for the gallows.

Talk about knotty plotting that playwright Frederick Knott has wound into this play from 1952 – whew – it’s like a shoelace you can’t untie.

In a production running through Saturday, Oct. 13, the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe cast tunes in to all the intrigue, guided surely by veteran director Michael J. Laskowski. The opening night performance Wednesday in the Real Opportunities Building received a standing ovation (that overlooked a few wiggles in performance along the way).

The audience is in on all the conniving that goes on. It is a fly on the wall for:

+ The opening private moments of the wife (Sommer Johnson-Loar) and the lover (Jesse Tubeszewski), who is a TV crime show writer.

+ The cat-and-mouse between the husband (Andrew Schmidt) and the old college classmate (Mike Doss), who is tricked into the murder plot because of his very checkered past (and present). This well-played scene helps guide the production to success.

+ The foiled murder scene.

+ The husband’s re-plotting afterward.

+ The cat-and-mouse between husband and the wife’s lover, who has the original plot nailed, with the husband lying through his teeth as he explains it all away.

+The cat-and-mouse and mouse-and-cat in scenes with Inspector Hubbard (Brad Dokken) and the husband as theories and lies fly around the Inspector like a swarm of angry wasps.

The set has the prim look of a London apartment where a former tennis pro (the husband) and his well-heeled wife might live.

Background music for this production is distinctive – jazz of the era. Going into the start of the performance, the tune is a burst of trumpet-drums-piano abstract energy, signaling the turbulence that will follow.

Certain things in the play no longer apply. One is England no longer hangs people. And “dial” is mostly a thing of the past – though the title “Dial M for Murder” is one of the great ones.

A takeaway from this production is the cast and director connect with the tightly bound material that kind of outdoes Agatha Christie – which is saying a lot.

***

Creative: Playwright – Frederick Knott; director – Michael J. Laskowski; stage manager – Jennifer Steffan; second stage manager, props master – Christy Dubey; set master builder – Randy Cleveland; scenic painters – Michael Gegare, Craig Klish; scenic dressers – Debbie Martin, Margie Brown; costume designer – Laura Mueller; lighting designer – Christopher Berberich; sound designer – Chloe Ledvina

Cast: Clockwise from upper left in photo: Brad Dokken as Inspector Hubbard, Mike Doss as Captain Lesgate, Corey Knepfel as Officer Thompson, Andrew Schmidt as Tony Wednice, Sommer Johnson-Loar as Margot Wendice and Jesse Tubeszewski as Max Halliday

Running time: Two hours, 12 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Oct. 11, 12; 2 and 7 p.m. Oct. 13

Info: (920) 982-6060.

***

NEXT: “The Christmas Express” by Pat Cook, Nov. 29, 30, Dec. 1, 6, 7, 8.

VENUE (updated 2018): REAL Opportunities Outreach at 304 St. Johns Place in downtown New London is home to Wolf River Theatrical Troupe performances. The building was built as a church and most previously was used by Christian Cornerstone Church. The exterior is red brick, with crosses atop the roof and on a side entryway. The rectangular auditorium seats 80 on moveable chairs. The former altar serves as the stage, with an adorned wooden beam and two columns with Corinthian capitals on each side establishing the stage front. The beam holds theatrical lighting fixtures. High above on the walls, wooden shutters cover window spaces. The performance space is unique among theaters in the region. It is especially deep. The stage is about 30 feet wide and at least 35 feet deep. To the left of the stage is the entrance to rest rooms. In the back of the house is the box office and a small area for concessions and displays.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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