William Makozak (in a stylish performance) stars as Tony Wendice, a long married, seemingly genteel man with murder on his mind. His wife, Margot (played by Marsi Smith in a delicious turn) is having a carefree affair with Tony’s longtime friend, Max (Scott M. Smith, a clever actor who can use his effervescent smile to convey charm or a reveal a dark edge). No longer interested in humoring the both of them, Tony hires an old college schoolmate, Swann (played by a suave and steady Jim Oxborrow) to murder his wife. The plan doesn’t go smoothly, as an exceptionally observant investigator (played by a terrific Dale Button) shows up and pieces the clues together.
The first act builds nicely, as polite conversations suddenly unveil shocking secrets. A feel of elegance and light doses of humor is just right, as the sinister qualities of the story sneak up on us. The murder sequence is excellent, as the chilling choreography, lighting, sound effects and an eerie use of the song “Tonight You Belong To Me” leave quite an impact. So does Ms. Smith’s scream, which could ice over a lava flow. There’s also the final moment, which is such a satisfying, fiendishly funny capper, it rewards audience patience with a biting conclusion.
Richard Vetterli’s set looks inviting and deceptively livable (I’ve noted this before in other Pro Arts productions). Vicki Nelson’s costumes add suitable depth to the performances- note how Tony, in a red bathrobe and dashing evening wear, appears positively devilish. Even the props are noteworthy and add character to the proceedings, with framed pictures scattered throughout the one-set apartment that provide delightful clues.
Taua fittingly makes a few Hitchcockian cameos throughout the show, providing voice work and (briefly) background figures for key moments. It’s the wonderful nod to the adage of the show-must-go-on, as Taua is clearly juggling a lot of backstage duties, while his thriller unspools its nasty secrets. Another clever touch is the selection of music, as Taua uses Jerry Goldsmith’s slinky “Basic Instinct” theme to set a macabre mood.
The third offering of the 2016-2017 season at the Pro Arts Playhouse at Azeka Shopping Center concludes a series of plays with connecting themes. Following the comedic whodunit send-up “The Game’s Afoot” and the heartbreaking “The Cemetery Club,” this latest offering also explores the issue of death and the aftermath of those left behind to deal with the recently departed. Perhaps it was unintentional that these three plays cover similar themes. Yet, it must be said that, when thought of as a trilogy, these works complement one another. In varying but equally playful ways, they focus on the way dead people make the living behave in extreme ways.
The play’s author is Frederick Knott, who also created “Wait Until Dark” (which was recently performed on Maui in a 2014 production, directed by Button and starring Oxborrow). Knott has a gift for crafting thrillers about seemingly rational adults who are overcome by a desperate urge to commit murder. This is the driving force of these thrillers, the shock of realizing someone who appears normal and kind-hearted is actually contemplating the unthinkable. “Dial M For Murder” was famously made into a Grace Kelly/ Ray Milland-starring Alfred Hitchcock thriller in 1954 (The Master of Suspense’s only film shot in 3-D). Younger audiences may recall the 1998 remake, “A Perfect Murder,” with Michael Douglas’s cold hearted businessman hiring a thug (a pre-superstardom Viggo Mortensen) to murder his wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). A better cinematic cousin to the stage and film version of “Dial M For Murder” is the Patricia Highsmith penned, Hitchcock-directed film, “Strangers on a Train,” which shares a scene of two men calmly discussing committing the act of murder. There will always be opportunities to see these stories portrayed on film. Seeing them on stage, on the other hand, is a rare treat. “Dial M For Murder” requires an attentive audience who loves their Agatha Christie, the sound of footsteps creeping in the hallway and the shock of a thunder bolt…met with a jolting scream.
Dial M For Murder opened April 14th and runs at the ProArts Playhouse at the Azeka Shopping Center until April 30th. Tickets can be purchased at www.proartspacific.com or by calling 463-6550.