IF YOU GO
What: Stage version of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through Dec. 20
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $38 & $42
Information: 239-332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Show has two ten-minute intermissions; total run time (inc. breaks) is approximately 2 hours, 40 minutes.
FORT MYERS — There's a moment in Florida Repertory Theatre's production of "Dial M for Murder," the stage version of the classic Hitchock thriller, that doesn't happen every night. I wish it did.
The complicated plot has more twists and turns than Cape Coral has canals, but essentially, a devious man wants his wife's fortune and plots her ruin. There's a second where Giles Davies turns to the audience and smiles before planting a stolen letter on a dead body. Someone in the completely still theater sucked in a huge breath and hissed loud enough for about fifteen rows to hear "Ohhhhhhhh. He's going to frame her" just as the house lights went down. It is one of those quirks that can only happen with live theater.
"Dial M," written by Frederick Knott, loses little of its claustrophobic terror in director Robert Cacioppo's hands. The stage play is minus the multiple camera angles, of course, but Cacioppo has his characters walking, talking, moving in tight orbits to create a sense of confinement.
The two-and-a-half hours fly by, with the audience nailed to their seats, not even daring to cough, squeak or move. The opening ten minutes are slow, yes, but the arrival of Davies' murder-on-the-mind husband Tony Wendice is like a bolt of lightning.
Davies, a newcomer to the Florida Rep, is electric in his debut (this was the Ray Milland role, folks). He's oily, unctuous, crafty and as devious as they come, whether it means blackmailing old college classmates, stealing his wife's purse for proof of her infidelity or even oh-so-calmly arranging her murder. Davies radiates charm, a bit of smarm and enough guile to seduce the audience a hundred times over.
His Tony Wendice meets his match though in Inspector Hubbard, the the equally superb Tad Ingram. Ingram, looking for all the world like a jolly old country copper, strikes with a rapier wit and a nose for trouble. The portrayal unconsciously brings to mind another great detective, Hercule Poirot, although I'm not positive that's where he was going with it. His confident, self-assured manner matches well with Davies' suave charm - the tense denouement owes as much to his authoritarian tones as it does to the script.
The pivotal murder scene lacks the exact notes of black-as-night suspense Hitchcock brought, thanks to the arsenal of movie-magic tools at his disposal. The scuffle between Deanna Gibson (Margot Wendice) and Jesse St. Louis (Lesgate) does have its own taut drama though - especially considering the exaggerated care they had to take not to knock the key prop, the scissors, off the desk.
The intense sounds, shadows and tones of Hitchcock's cinema version translate, thanks to Aaron Meadow and Kate Smith. Shadows stream out across the stage from an open bedroom door, feet play beneath a locked door and a phone rings out in the night - all tiny things that add to the magic of the theater. The police investigation scenes - featuring actors and flashbulbs on a partially dark stage - are especially effective.
"Dial M" offers up a satisfyingly thrill-filled ride through a crumbling marriage, a peek inside the mind of a dastardly husband and satisfying comeuppance. There's also the shared joy of watching it in a theater, with the gasps, the sighs and the "ohhhhhhhhs" from the audience. Dial "M," if you dare.