After warmly applauding the rest of the cast, the audience heartily booed the villain during curtain calls at the Little Theatre of Alexandria matinee on Sunday. Richard Isaacs grinned gleefully in response, knowing that they had just given him an actor’s ultimate accolade for his “Dial M for Murder” performance.
As co-producer Dick Schwab put it, the play is full of “unexpected twists and turns,” mostly thanks to the villain of the piece. Plotting even his deadliest deeds with a friendly, hearty air, Isaacs is indeed the man the audience loves to hate. The story accordingly starts twisting and turning early, when he hires an assassin to kill his wealthy wife, she manages to kill the killer instead, and her hateful hubby takes advantage of her love and trust to frame her for the crime.
Any more information might kill the suspense, but suffice it to say that this story has been enthralling viewers ever since it made its debut in 1952 as a BBC television drama. It went on to theaters in both London and Broadway before becoming an Alfred Hitchcock suspense movie classic in 1954, then came full circle as a TV movie in 1981.
In the midst of the current Hitchcock revival, marked by the biographical movies “Hitchcock” and “The Girl,” this perennial favorite reminds us of how Hitch kept stabbing his way into our hearts.
The current Alexandria production pays a special tribute to this master of movie mayhem, with his framed photo standing on the shelf of the London living room that provides the setting for all three acts. It thus gives a wink and nod to Hitchcock fans, who know that he made his own cameo appearance in each and every film.
Among its other achievements, his “Dial M for Murder” helped make Grace Kelly into a superstar. Playing the incredibly wronged wife, Jenni Patton displays a similar blond beauty and charm, but says that she has no intention of seeing the movie until her own run is over.
“I didn’t want my performance to be so influenced that it was not my own,” she said. “But I admire her as a huge style icon and I am excited to be playing the same role. It is a great honor.”
Director Carla Scopeletis expressed a similar feeling.
“I saw the movie a long time ago,” she said. “But I thought it was best not to watch it again, because I wanted to make it my own.”
Playing the police inspector, John Henderson also makes his pivotal role triumphantly his own. Literally looming over the rest of the cast with his commanding air, he wins applause and laughter with the classic cop line, “There is just one other thing …”
Ably rounding out the ensemble, James Myers is more than attractive enough to console the wronged wife as the man who really loves her, and Jerry Hoffman is a convincingly creepy killer.
The 1950s setting is evoked by Susan Boyd, who provided the authentic period costume and hair design. Wearing her fur stole, pillbox hat and beehive hairdo, Patton evokes the era while echoing Kelly’s elegance.
The charming theater itself deserves applause. Even before the theater opens, a sitting room provides appetizers, beverages and additional seating. Once the doors open, the audience can enjoy the theater’s wainscoting, chandeliers and, best of all, softly padded seats, all helping to make it a memorable occasion.