By Dale King
Lake Worth Playhouse has spent the last couple of seasons polishing up its capacity for presenting thought-provoking, plausible and entertaining murder mysteries.
The theater company earned plaudits last year for its adaptation of Agatha Christie’s popular murder mystery Mousetrap. A year earlier, it kept the audience entranced with an edge-of-your-seat performance of Deathtrap, the nail-biter that pits two authors against one another in a deadly battle for the rights to a play that’s a guaranteed theatrical hit.
This year, director Rae Randall (Camelot, Sister Act, Witness for the Prosecution) has gathered a talented cast and challenged them to perform one of the all-time classic murder stories – Dial M for Murder, written by playwright Frederick Knott, performed on stage and eventually brought to the screen by mystery thrill master Alfred Hitchcock.
The task of making the twisted tale work was daunting, but the troupe pulled it off without a hitch, providing sufficient seat-squirming action to please the audience. Many of them first-timers at Lake Worth Playhouse, the performers certainly rose to the occasion. Dial M for Murder is a highly emotional, passionate production where life and death are at stake – and the actors’ levels of fervor are often pushed to the limit.
In addition, every cast member maintained his or her English accent precisely.
The production is playing for only one more weekend and will bring down its final curtain March 12. Haste is advised for those planning to attend.
Both the stage production and screenplay were written by English playwright Knott, who, ironically, wrote only a few stories for the stage. But two of them – Dial M for Murder and Wait Until Dark – were so well-crafted that they have become regular shows in stock, amateur, regional and touring productions around the world. Lake Worth Playhouse performed Wait Until Dark during its 2018-2019 season.
One thing is clear to those of us whose job it is to critique stage shows. There’s little a reviewer can say about Dial M for Murder that doesn’t reveal a clue or give away an important piece of investigative information.
Here’s part of the show summary that the playhouse posted on its website – a synopsis that doesn’t seem to reveal too much of the plot.
“When American writer Mark Halliday (Jeremy Wershoven) visits the very married Margot Wendice (Rachel Sexton) in London, he unknowingly sets off a chain of blackmail and murder. After sensing Margot’s affections for Halliday, her husband, Tony Wendice (Caleb James Williams), fears divorce and disinheritance, and plots her death.”
That’s about as far as we can go without revealing too much of the cunning plot. We can only say that in Act II, Chief Inspector Hubbard (excellently portrayed by Brandon Goldsmith) takes over the deadly probe – and he pretty much commands the entire act until the perverse tale is solved.
The top-notch ensemble of actors that makes Dial M for Murder work for Lake Worth Playhouse includes Caleb James Williams as Tony Wendice, Margot’s jealous husband. Williams portrays him as cold, calculating and a habitual liar whose demeanor of warmth and friendliness is fake.
Rachel Sexton debuts at the Playhouse as Margot Wendice, a caring, fun-loving person who trusts other people a bit too readily. Her range of emotions is vast.
Jeremy Wershoven portrays Max Halliday, a crime writer for television who allows his vocation to intrude with Hubbard’s investigation. A good guy who appears honest and genuine, he is still capable of fighting for what he thinks is right.
Rounding out the cast are Eric Garvin (Constable Williams), Martin Malter (Constable Barclay), Myles Lee (Sergeant O’Brien/ Radio Announcer), Nicolas Teixeira (Captain Lesgate/ C.A. Swann) and Ted Montuori (Reporter Stephens).
And the backstage crew certainly lends a hand, creating on stage a well-appointed English manse with a center bar, piano, fireplace, lots of elegant furniture and a piano. James Cartee is set designer and show carpenters include M.A. Knoke, Nelson Stone, David Drain, Emma Pitot, Chip Latimer, Saxz Stevens, Bob Sharky and Alveiro Machado.
Dial M for Murder plays through March 12 at the Lake Worth Playhouse, 713 Lake Ave., Lake Worth Beach. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 561-586-6410 or visiting lakeworthplayhouse.org.