Once you step inside the theater at the Olney and spy the set, darling, you know it will be a magnificent show, quite enough to suit your fancy and leave you spellbound throughout.
From left, Nisi Sturgis as Margot Wendice, Cameron McNary as Max Halliday, and Alan Wade as Inspector Hubbard in Dial 'M' for Murder at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh
Alfred Hitchcock fans will not want to miss the theatre's newest production, Dial 'M' for Murder, every bit the mystery on stage as it was in the master's 1954 movie starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. (Can you imagine?)
From the get-go and the haunting shadow from the cascading single light shining from above (design by Sonya Dowhaluk) and the pling, pling, pling of the single strings (marvelously composed and played by Roc Lee on a synthesizer), who needs a plot when you can just sit back and admire the living room, a piece of art unto itself with fab 50s Mad Men decor, the sofa, the chairs, the harsh corners, the lamps, the trophy shelves, and the doors (design by Charlie Calvert).
In true Hitchcock fashion, you must keep up with the key, dearie, or get lost like the rest of us, but it doesn't matter. Where there's Hitchcock and murder, you know you are in for a treat, even if the wrong man is snuffed out. Director Jason King Jones makes sure shadows of doubt lurk in the minds of attendees.
The mystery begins with Margot Wendice (Nisi Sturgis) and her lover, Max Halliday (Cameron McNary), a foreign correspondent, who quickly reveal their dangerous lies.
Ashley Smith is the handsome (with a touch of George Clooney) and beloved (or is he?) Tony Wendice, the rich and strange husband, thrown overboard for the likes of another man. Tony enlists an old pal, James Konicek as Captain Lesgate in a blackmail sweep, as Tony's suspicion of the illicit couple grows, and downhill they go.
In the single female role Ms. Sturgis does resemble Grace Kelly, a believable, adoring spouse (no farmer's wife) especially as a white shadow underneath the spotlight in a flowing gown. (I suppose the leading female had to be a blonde, perhaps a Hitchcock requirement.)
Then there is the ubiquitous (almost notorious) Alan Wade as Inspector Hubbard who said at the after-party he has starred in so many Olney shows, he's lost count (about 25), but quite a natural, the man who knows too much. Look out when he shows up at the torn curtain, at the entrance to a pleasure garden, right outside the rear window through which various characters come and go in their passionate adventures (?). (You see what I mean about intrigue?)
Who might the victim be? Leave it to Hitchcock to upset the planned order of things.
The costuming (by Seth Gilbert) is divine, especially the peach colors wore by Captain Lesgate, and the Fab 50s apparel of Margo who sweeps the stage a la Loretta Young, if anyone young and innocent can recall her television show.
The pace is fast, also propelled by lighting and music which are skilfully woven with the characters to leave us guessing.
The dialect coach, Zachary Campion, did a splendid job, guiding the actors in natural, unpretentious delivery, and is to be commended for outstanding achievement (is there an award for that?), and is an important crew member, like fight choreographer, Casey Kaleba, able to land strong punches.
Let's finish with a toast of champagne, shall we?, before we say "bon voyage" (May 1, but look for an extension) to another really good show at the Olney.
Hear! Hear! Helen Hayes nominations:
Outstanding Lighting Design: Sonya Dowhaluk
Outstanding Musical Direction: Roc Lee
Outstanding Set Design: Charlie Calvert
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play: Ashley Smith
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play: James Konicek
Additional members of the creative team are Elisabeth A. Ribar, production stage manager, and Alexandra Ley, dramaturg. Frederick Knott (1916-2002) wrote the play, which was originally part of a BBC television series with its premiere in London in 1952.
Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832
When: Wednesday through Saturday through May 1, 2016 at 8 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and an April 27, Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m.
How much: Tickets start at $38, with discounts for military, groups, seniors, and students.
Duration: 130 minutes with one intermission.
Refreshments: Available for purchase and may be taken to seats.
Parking: Abundant, free, and on-site
Special performances and events:
April 20, 8 p.m. Audio described performance for the visually impaired, presented by Metropolitan Washington Ear.
April 23, 2 p.m. and April 30, 2 p.m., Afterwords, post-show discussions
For more information: 301-924-3400