Classic mystery ‘Dial M for Murder’ rings up the right number

    Most mysteries are simple open-and-shut cases: The lights go off, someone ends up dead, a detective questions everybody, and in the end it was Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the conservatory. Yet “Dial M For Murder” takes such usual PBS fare and turns it inside out, offering a finely crafted mystery not about who killed whom, but what went wrong with the perfect murder. Drawing the audience into a tangled web of deceit, the remarkably clever script by Frederick Knott is clearly one of the finest mysteries ever written. So well-written, in fact, that it was immortalized on film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954, and had a successful run on Broadway. (A hacked-up version of the script also formed the basis for the 1998 Michael Douglas vehicle “A Perfect Murder,” but you can’t have everything.)

    Lamb’s Players Theatre’s ensemble does a good job of capturing the mood of such a piece; somewhere in between the cheeky British accents and the expertly lit set, the audience is taken for a surprisingly comfortable ride with all the flair of a Hitchcock film and all of the humor of A&E’s recent Poirot productions. Director Kerry Meads deserves praise for developing every nuance of the script without resorting to cheap gags or trite sentimentality.

    In addition, the acting deserves praise: Rick D. Meads headlines the cast with an icy, wonderfully subdued portrayal of the murderous former tennis star, and Nick Cordelione does a nice job as a paranoid con artist forced to play the other side. Unfortunately, Jennifer Austin’s perpetually frightened wife plays a little too over the top to fit the realistic mood of the play, but it’s hard to tell whether her ho-hum performance is the fault of her cheesy collection of lines or her actual ability. Matt Scott as a pulp writer and David Cochran Heath as a somewhat bumbling inspector round out the cast with solid performances. Since the performers are all part of a resident ensemble, their chemistry together is excellent and nobody hogs the spotlight in a refreshing break from most high-end theatre.

    Overall, “Dial M For Murder” is a fun experience, offering an old-fashioned murder mystery and requiring the audience to sort out a multitude of mind games as the evening progresses. Though8 It isn’t a big Broadway production and doesn’t take any risks — it still manages to capture the old-fashioned charm missing from recent drudgefests such as 2001’s “Gosford Park.” Recommended for any fans of Hitchcock or film noir who can stomach the slower pace.

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