“Dial M for Murder” is a 50’s crime mystery of noir proportions. First produced as a BBC television series and later by Alfred Hitchcock for the big screen, “Dial M for Murder” has been in production almost continuously since 1952. The show opened last weekend on the Jacksonville stage of the Randall Theatre Company.
“Dial M for Murder” is the classic British conundrum of suspense and sleight of hand. An aging tennis player marries for money and tires of his wealthy, blue-blood wife. She’s strayed with an American murder mystery writer though regrets the lapse and is committed to her ex-tennis player husband, sort of. The husband schemes her murder, the wife kills her attacker, she is framed, convicted and sentenced to be hanged. There’s more to the story of course, and so the play.
Six actors, five men and a woman, make up the cast of “Dial M for Murder.” Jeff Mercer as Tony Wendice, the conniving husband, is smarmy and increasingly creepy through the performance. His stocky frame, round face and conniving designs are oh, so au contraire to Austin Kelly, playing Max Halliday, the square-jaw American boyfriend who saves the day. Meagan Kirby is as beautifully vulnerable as she is tall and elegant in her black wig, pearls and flats, absolutely flummoxed by the actions that surround her. Young Tawny Hernandez was well cast as the sleazy and only marginally reluctant hit man of many names. Not to be missed is Steve DuMouchel, playing Inspector Hubbard, a British Columbo who always seems to have just one more question.
It is not easy to adopt an English accent, and if I may digress, “muuhduh” is the proper British pronunciation of “murder,” not “murdur” as we say in America. Also, there is a whole 1950s noir canon of eye twitches, sideways glances and clenched fists to go along with the word, most of which Jeffrey Mercer serves up with aplomb. OK, so thanks for the digression and enough on the British-isms. They were fun to note and their absence certainly did not distract from the drama.
Paula Waterbury makes her directorial debut with “Dial M for Murder.” She’s been with the Randall Theatre since the beginning as stage manager and remembers painting the original sets. “As director, at the first couple of rehearsals it was hard for me to say, ‘OK you’re going to do this, go over here and this is what I’m looking for in your character,’ ” she says. “You have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but it always comes together in the end, that’s the best thing about theatre.” Waterbury has the pacing of the production and thanks to experience, her coaching is instinctive, every detail down.
The Randall Theatre is personal, and relationships are important. This year the Randall Theatre Company produced some shows on the Medford stage and began a partnership with the Calvary Church of God, producing half the shows in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville stage is set on a church alter lifted up for good visibility, with not a bad seat in the house. There is a staff welcome from the stage, a raffle for the favored, up front sofa seating to benefit children’s theatre education, an appeal for contributions to the actors’ fund and recognition of sponsors throughout. During intermission, the call to the concessions is made with the familiar screen clip and refrain, “Let’s all go to the lobby!” And most impressively, the cast lines up to thank the audience on exit. Yes, after 90 minutes of putting it out there, the cast keeps up the game and greets the crowd. Impressive.
The Randall Theatre — it’s like theatre in your living room — personal, friendly and with plenty of popcorn, too.
“Dial M for Murder” runs about an hour and a half with a 15 minute intermission and is suitable for all ages. Performances continue on September 28, 29, 30 and October 5, 6, 7 at 7:00 p.m. and September. 24, October 1 and 8 at 2 p.m. Reserve seating is $20-$22, and $12 on Thursdays. The Randall’s Jacksonville stage is at 520 North 5th Street in the Calvary Church of God in Jacksonville, Oregon. For tickets and more information visit www.RandallTheatre.com or phone 541-632-3258.
Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer who lives in Ashland, Oregon. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org