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Dial ‘m’ for Murder

There is macabre pleasure in following the villainous Tony Wendice as he entangles the unwilling Captain Lesgate (Michael Halsey) into the plot to murder his wife, Margot.

There is macabre pleasure in following the villainous Tony Wendice as he entangles the unwilling Captain Lesgate (Michael Halsey) into the plot to murder his wife, Margot.

But the real kick comes from watching his nimble mind maneuver around the unforeseen twists provided by a deadly pair of scissors, the suspicions of Margot’s ex-lover Max (Michael Spound), the slow-but-steady snooping of Police Inspector Hubbard (S. Marc Jordan) and the elusive whereabouts of the all-important apartment latchkey.

Dickson never falters from his gracious persona while constantly sidestepping obstacles thrown in his path. Hutchison (in vivid contrast to her recent “The Guiding Light” turn as jewel thief Jenna Bradshaw) creates a memorable portrait of the sophisticated, yet emotionally fragile Margot; she believably exudes the conflicting emotions of Margot’s attraction to Max and her sense of duty and respect for husband Tony.

Spound offers handsome and staunch support as the love-driven Max, tenaciously fighting to rescue Margot. Jordan is every inch the traditional, understated British sleuth. In his one scene, Halsey offers an effective portrayal of the ne’er-do-well Captain Lesgate, forced by Tony to shed layer after layer of artifice and pretense.

Director Bailey lays everything out in immaculate order, never allowing the pace of the action to outrace the audience’s perception, yet never dwelling on the moment once it is understood. He is aided immeasurably by the scenic and lighting designs of Gary Wissman and Kevin Mahan, respectively.

Special mention should also go to sound designer Frederick Boot’s work.

Dial 'm' for Murder

(Pasadena Playhouse; 400 seats; $ 33.50 top)

Production: The Pasadena Playhouse (Lars Hansen, executive director) presents a drama in two acts by Frederick Knott; director, Alan Bailey; sets, Gary Wissman; lighting, Kevin Mahan; costumes, Dawna Oak; sound design, Frederick Boot. Opened, reviewed May 14, 1995; runs through June 18. Running time: 2 hrs., 10 min. Margot Wendice ... Fiona Hutchison Max Halliday ... Michael Spound Tony Wendice ... Neil Dickson Captain Lesgate ... Michael Halsey Inspector Hubbard ... S. Marc Jordan Thompson ... Darrell James Expert craftsmanship has made British playwright Frederick Knott's 1952 drawing room thriller a community theater staple throughout the English-speaking world. If the actors can get the words out, audiences generally love it. That this Pasadena Playhouse production has been elevated to a higher form of theatrical art is due to Alan Bailey's inspired staging and a first-rate ensemble, led by the superb Neil Dickson and the beautifully delicate Fiona Hutchison as his victimized wife. Knott (who also wrote the 1966 Broadway hit, "Wait Until Dark") is able to create complex, detailed plots that are also imbued with a breathtaking sense of urgency.

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