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LA Theater Review

Dial M For Murder

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Though hardly as haunting as Hitchcock's 1954 film adaptation, Frederick Knott's original script still possesses mind-bending intrigue when, as in the case of this production, it's given proper treatment. Director Mario Garcia grants his audience the pleasure of enjoying each twist and turn, be it psychological or plot-related, by taking his time.

His labors are made even more memorable thanks to the gifted talents of Jack Chansler and Christopher Rydman, respectively playing Knott's cat, Inspector Hubbard, and mouse, Tony Wendice. Rydman creates a finely drawn balance between doting husband to his intended victim, Margot, and blackmailing murderer. Meanwhile, Chansler's reactions are the epitome of patience as he absorbs each new clue, eventually realizing that all is not as it first seemed. Both actors exhibit that rarely demonstrated ability to listen, cogitate, and then act upon what they have learned. In a mystery such as Knott's, this level of character immersion isn't merely a blessing, it's a necessity.

Other players are reasonably successful. Tania Obteshka's turn as Margot is certainly up to the level of intensity required, particularly when she's assaulted by Jake Beene's assassin. Oddly, she delivers many of her lines to the audience as if indicating her shell-shocked mental state. Likewise, as Max Halliday, an American television-mystery screenwriter and Margot's ex-lover, Josh O'Bryant's stiffness is distracting at times.

The design is in fine form; scenic designers Kirk Smith and Len Vandegrift earn special mention for the Wendice's London flat. The richly appointed drawing room, stocked with Tony's tennis cups and a variety of upper-class artwork and knickknacks, allows Garcia's company to move effortlessly.

Steve Shaw's sound design includes preshow and intermission music plucked from those joyously hopeful, string-heavy film scores of the 1950s. One quibble, however, with Kim Smith's otherwise nicely drawn lighting plot. In the crucial attack scene, overhead instruments illuminate the room in direct opposition to references of darkness made by Rydman's character to his co-conspirator. Had the stage been bathed by nothing more than the fireplace's dying embers and light leaking through the open bedroom door, imagination could have done the rest.

Presented by and at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Jun. 24-Aug. 5. (626) 256-3809. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.

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