Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Dial M for Murder
Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's review of Clyde's

Krystel Lucas and Kate Abbruzzese
Photo by Carol Rose
Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Dial M for Murder, originally scripted by Frederick Knott, provides a gender switch, some new language, and fresh pizzazz for the current Westport Country Playhouse production. Mark Lamos directs with specificity because this type of theatre demands it for maximum effectiveness. Granting actor leeway is sometimes a performance plus, but not here.

Welcome to a London living room sometime during the 1950s. Tony Wendice (Patrick Andrews) publicizes the books his wife Margot (Kate Abbruzzese) writes. Maxine (Krystel Lucas) authors thriller novels. When Knott first wrote the play, the character of Maxine was a man. Now, this clever woman becomes one focal point of the show. The alluring Margot is slim but not demure, while Maxine (whom Margot loves) has a stunning look and she's very, very smart. Denver Milord plays Lesgate, who seems to be a cold-hearted murderer.

Tony and Margot's marriage has been far from sublime for years, but she has money and Tony wants it. He will go to extremes to cash in. Lesgate is on the scene to actualize Tony's plan. That does not quite work out as imagined, since it is Lesgate who is victimized. The art of blackmailing is pivotal during the first act and is the stuff which captivates mystery fans. It is not until after intermission that Inspector Hubbard (Kate Burton) arrives at the Wendice abode. She, with rat-a-tat questions and unshakable resolve, intends to locate the truth.

Early on it becomes evident that Tony is aware that his wife is involved with Maxine; a discovered love letter is of vital importance. Front door keys become essential when the Inspector unveils layers of deception and complicity during the final hour of the performance. It's all about who is conspiring with whom and so forth. Any further plot revelation would spoil the evening for those who wish to watch this exacting presentation in order to find out for themselves.

Alexander Dodge's set is spot-on mid-fifties. He provides period-perfect furnishings, lengthy drapes, and long French windows. It feels like this visible time travel enables theatregoers to instantly zip 70 years backward. Kate Marvin's pinpoint sound design is a necessity and lighting designer Emma Deane darkens the stage at precise moments. In all, the convergence of human performance and production elements coordinate impeccably. There's not a whole lot of wiggle room within this Dial M for Murder. Put it this way: if actor timing and discipline were somewhat off, the show would not work.

As women in love, actors Abbruzzese and Lucas are convincing. Abbruzzese's Margot is a multi-note character and the performer brings home the woman's complexity. Lucas is attention-getting as Maxine. Patrick Andrews's Tony is money-grubbing and more than feisty while Denver Milord is, well, menacing? Persuasive Kate Burton changes the texture of the show when she takes the second act spotlight as the single-minded Inspector Hubbard. The overall pacing and anxiety accelerate as she peels back layers of murder mystery.

Artistic Director Mark Lamos might be helming his final show, since he has announced his retirement. A fine actor who starred on and Off-Broadway before he became artistic leader first at Hartford Stage and since 2009 at Westport, he has great directorial range. Known for his creative Shakespeare interpretation while in Hartford, Lamos has directed across many genres with his productions at Westport Playhouse at WCP. He has a musical ear and has worked on opera as well. This time, he makes certain that every single particular is just right. For example, when an actor finds the aforementioned love letter, that piece of paper is folded and positioned just so: nothing is lost and there simply isn't any flexibility. That surely benefits this mystery thriller, one which fans of that metier will love while even non-mystery buffs surely will appreciate.

Dial M for Murder runs through July 30, 2023, at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Ct., Westport CT. For tickets and information, please call 203-227-4177 or visit