Review: Dial ‘M’ for Murder

A thriller is only as good as its villain, and Tony Wendice is as slick as it gets.  As the architect of a years-long plot to kill his wife, Wendice is so sly, meticulous, and measured it is hard to believe–until the very last moment–that he won’t get away with it.  As they say, this is not a whodunnit, since the audience sees all of the pieces laid out plainly before them.  Instead, the thrill comes from watching this smooth operator finally make a mistake.

An instant classic, Frederick Knott’s original play has been adapted to into just about every medium, from radio to cinema (under the masterful hand of none other than Alfred Hitchcock) and now returns to the stage.  There is no way this play can succeed without the razor sharp performance by David Andrew Macdonald, who makes his Guthrie debut with this production.  Macdonald plays the role with style and matter-of-fact confidence that never crosses the line into that of an archetypal villain.  There’s no mustache twirling here, which makes his character feel all the more sinister.  I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of Mr. Macdonald at the Guthrie in the future.  Peter Christian Hansen returns to the stage as the victim who totally had it coming (last seen playing Samuel Ratchett in Murder on the Orient Express).

While the play succeeds largely on the back of Macdonald’s performance as Tony Wendice, the uneven portrayals of Margot Wendice and her former (?) lover, Maxine Hadley, nearly undermine the production.  Perhaps this comes from the adaptation, which flips the original gender of Max to Maxine, but it is hard to believe Margot and Maxine ever felt anything for each other.  Although it is explained in the dialogue, I nevertheless struggled to understand what their relationship to each other was as the play progressed, to the point where it was distracting to see them together.  Maybe this was the point, but given the social and legal prohibitions against same-sex relationships in 1950s London, I expected people who had to risk so much to even be together to have formed a tighter bond than what is so easily discarded as the play unfolds.  Nevertheless, since the story ultimately swings back to Tony, the relationship between Margot and Maxine necessarily fades into the background.

The 2.5 hour runtime will fly by in a flash.  The play runs through February 25, 2024.  Tickets start at $34.

photo by Dan Norman