Do you think there is such a thing as a perfect murder? If so, you’ll think twice (or more) after seeing Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder,” in a sparkling production at the Westport Country Playhouse. Stylishly directed by Mark Lamos, Knott’s script (you may recognize the title more readily from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film) has been updated by Jeffrey Hatcher, adaptor extraordinaire and writer of such fascinating original plays as “Scotland Road,” “Three Viewings,” and “Compleat Female Stage Beauty” (the last made into the terrific film “Stage Beauty,” starring Billy Crudup and Claire Danes), among many others. Here we see Hatcher characteristically blowing the dust off an old story: between his vision, Lamos’ lucidity, and an almost perfect cast, this may be the most fun you’ll have for a while in the midst of a dark and twisty thriller.
The plot itself will strike you as familiar. Tony Wendice, who works for a London publishing company, has married rich; however, he suspects that his wife, Margot, has a lover and realizes that if she leaves him, he will be thrown into a comparatively penurious existence. As anyone might, he decides that killing her off and inheriting her fortune will solve his problems. The perfect murder, of course, requires the perfect alibi, so he blackmails a rediscovered school acquaintance, Lesgate, who makes a living by bumping off wealthy women. Murder is rarely simple, though, and this one quickly goes awry.
With one exception, Lamos’ casting is as impeccable as Tony’s planning is not. As Margot, Kate Abbruzzese is appropriately blond, beautiful, and meek until she discovers that she can play as rough as the next man, or woman. The stunning Krystel Lucas, towering over everyone else on the stage, plays American expat Maxine, Margot’s lover, and she brings to this character the authentic quality of seeing the others as they cannot see themselves. As Inspector Hubbard, Kate Burton is stolid perfection, and Denver Milord plays Lesgate as well as anyone could, since this is one role in which Hatcher has passed up the chance to create a truly creepy killer-for-hire.
Lamos’ single misstep is to cast Patrick Andrews as Tony. Though Andrews is clearly skillful and having a lot of fun, he is delicately built and shorter than anyone else on the stage. He has also been directed to all but twirl his moustache in impish anticipation of inheriting his wife’s money. When we should be watching Tony’s absolute confidence gradually crumble into well-hidden panic, Andrews remains a melodramatic villain to the end.
Still, the show is a delight. The gorgeous set is by Alexander Dodge, and Maxine and Margot, in particular, shine in Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s stunning costumes. Emma Deane provides the film noir lighting, and J. Jared Janus has created beautiful period make-up, wig, and hair designs.
Don’t miss this production, which combines the fun of Hatcher’s classy updates and Lamos’ sophisticated direction. It’s rare that an old-fashioned thriller will give you so much to talk about.
“Dial M for Murder” continues through July 30; please note that it has been extended due to deserved popular demand. Performance schedule is Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 and 7 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m., and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Open Captions (July 23), Backstage Pass (July 26), and Thursday Talk Back (July 27). The Playhouse has teamed up with local restaurant partners to offer specialty cocktails to celebrate the show during its run. The play is recommended for age 12 and up. Running time is approximately two hours with one intermission.
Single tickets for “Dial M for Murder” start at $45 and are subject to change based upon availability. Buy early for best prices. For information on special offers, including discounts for students, senior citizens, educators, military and first responders, Indigenous peoples, professional playwrights, and groups, as well as options for pay-what-you-will and library passes visit www.westportplayhouse.org/visit/box-office/.