Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Dial M for Murder
Before becoming a writer, Knott was a professional tennis player, Wimbledon material. So what did he write his first play about? A retired professional tennis player who hires someone to kill his wife. The tennis player isn't bringing in any money anymore, the wife is rich, and she has had some sort of romantic dalliance with an American mystery writer of TV scripts. Why mess with a divorce when you can just have her bumped off? The question, of course, is will he get away with it.
The play is set in London in 1952, but except for a few details, it doesn't seem dated or even particularly British. The build-up to the murder scene takes its time, but my interest never lagged. The police inspector arrives in the second act, and from then on, you have to pay attention to every little clue. We, the audience, know what happened. The suspense lies in waiting to see who on stage can find it out before it's too late.
Since there's not a lot of action and no special effects, the success of the play depends on the actors delivering the prodigious amount of dialogue fluently and convincingly. Under Nancy Sellin's direction, the play is very fluid, and she is blessed with a uniformly excellent cast and crew. Top of the list is David Bello as Tony, the tennis pro. He perfectly fits the part of someone who has sailed through life on fame and good looks, and doesn't intend to settle for a regular job and a possibly adulterous wife. This is by far the largest role I've seen David in, and he proves that he has the chops to carry a show.
But he doesn't carry it alone. All the other cast members play their parts equally well. Ronda Lewis goes from glamorous socialite to confused and shaken victim without missing a beat. Mario Cabrera is so good at playing a role like the inspector, somewhat supercilious but clever and in command, that he could take out a patent on it. Likewise Tim Riley, who is the go-to actor when you need a scowling bad guy; nobody does it better. Vince Ascoli, a professional entertainer but new to the Albuquerque theater scene, does fine work as the American writer. He should do as much theater as he can fit into his schedule.
The set and lighting design by Glenn Pepe are, as always, top-notch. It's sad news that this is Glenn's last show in New Mexico; a teaching position has lured him away. Joe Moncada has crafted some beautiful dresses for Ronda (some copied directly from Grace Kelly's in the movie) and some well-tailored suits for the men. Michael Nuckols has provided lots of trophy cups and other props that make the set look lived in by well-to-do people.
You might say to yourself "Oh, I've seen the Hitchcock movie, I don't need to see it on stage." But I think it would be a mistake to miss this show. To my mind, seeing a well-written play, well-acted and well-directed, is more thrilling than any movieeven one by Hitchcock.
Dial M for Murder, through February 10, 2019, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Extra performances Saturday 2/2/19 at 2:00 and Thursday 2/7/19 at 7:30. Tickets $15 to $23. For tickets and information, visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750.