Monday, October 27, 2014

Dial M For Murder—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

The Key To One’s Undoing

This ole-time, murder mystery is by Fredrick Knott and directed by Brandon Woolley.  It plays at their space at the historic Venetian Theatre at 253 E. Main St. in Hillsboro, OR through November 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.bagnbaggage.org or call 503-345-9590.

The semi-classic film of this play was made in the 50’s by Alfred Hitchcock…in 3D, no less.  And it had an A-list cast with Grace Kelly as the wife, Ray Milland as the husband, Bob Cummings as the writer and John Williams (a frequent supporting actor in many of his TV shows and movies) as the Inspector.  This cast also is of high caliber with Cassie Greer (one of my favorites from their company), Andrew Beck, Luke Armstrong and Judson Williams in the same roles.

But, what is a wonderful device in the written word, from Christie to Doyle and others, is the fact that they can give you a great deal of background history of the plot and characters in book form, so that you might be able to solve the mystery yourself.  But what works in a tome, allowing you to create for yourself their imaginary world, does not translate well onto a stage or film, as they are visuals mediums.  The same holds true here, as the first half of the first act is almost all expository.  And, although well delivered by the actors, it does slow things down somewhat.

One unique thing about the plot is that you know almost from the beginning who the villain is and then it becomes a cat-and-mouse game as to how or if he will slip up in some way to reveal himself (much like the old TV series, Columbo).  The husband, Tony (Beck), is a tennis pro and has married for money.  His wife, Margot (Greer), is having an affair with a screenwriter, Max (Armstrong).  So Tony feels justified on both counts in doing away with his wife.

So he enlists the aid of an ole school chum, Lesgate (Dennis Kelly), into doing the dastardly deed for him, as Tony has some incriminating evidence on Lesgate’s past and present history.  But the plot does not go as planned.  Someone does end up dead but not the wife and so the police are called in.  And so it is up to the Inspector (Williams) and his trusty aide, Thompson (Philip J. Berns), to unlock the door to the mystery and expose the husband.  I can’t tell you more or it would ruin the discoveries made.

The set by Megan Wilkerson give us the outline of their flat but leaves the walls open, which allows for a lot of freedom of movement.  And she always has interesting backdrop projections on a scrim for their shows.  Much like the film, Dogville (which would make a good play), which they mention in the program, they only use essential set and prop pieces to tell the story.  And Whoolley has cast well, as his actors are all well-suited for their parts, even using stylized British accents.

The cast does well with, at times, a plodding script.  Greer is always good at everything I’ve seen her in and I’m sure she will continue to grow as her talent is noticed.  Williams gives us a fine detective, reminding us of a Columbo-type (albeit better dressed) even with a similar catch-phrase, “oh, just one more thing….”  And Berns (a frequent actor with Post 5) has some nice comic bits in the various guises he presents.

This is a fun evening, like sitting down with an old friend by the fireside on a stormy night and telling ghost stories.  And, in that spirit, I have given you a couple of clues in my review as to what is the device that will be his downfall.  But to solve it, you must see the show.  It is also interesting to note that (being myself too logical at times) that the worst the husband could get is a few years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder and probably obstruction of justice, which is a bit light compared to what his wife would have faced.  Just a thought, as it seems a bit of lop-sided justice.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.