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'Dial M for Murder' not your average whodunit

Charismatic Tony — a former professional tennis player — has grown accustomed to the lavish lifestyle made possible by his wife and heiress, Margot. When he fears she's having an affair, he'd rather plot her demise than be victim to her waning affections.

Even the best laid plans backfire. When Tony's meticulous scheme goes awry in this classic thriller by playwright Frederick Knott, he must improvise an equally sinister contrivance and stay one step ahead of the police. So begins a game of cat and mouse laced with blackmail and intrigue.

"Dial M" was first staged in 1952 on Broadway. Knott later wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film version.

"It's likely many people will remember Alfred Hitchcock's 'Dial M for Murder,' " says Paula Waterbury, who is making her directorial debut at Randall Theatre. "The plot is the same in the play, but we don't get to rely on camera angles to set the mood. We don't get to perform the scene over and over until it's perfect. It's up to us to create a show that leads audiences on a suspenseful journey. If it's done well, people will feel like voyeurs watching the story unfold and cheer when the bad guy gets his due.

"I think patrons will enjoy this production, because it's different than the classic 'who-done-it' style," she says in a press release. "Audiences know who the culprit is, and we see our villain manipulate all the people around him to his benefit. For him, the only important thing is money. It has been the driving force for all his actions for a lifetime. We want him to be caught."

As the seemingly disinterested Inspector Hubbard — an English version of NBC's Columbo — gathers clues and asks questions, he always has just one more question he needs answered. These details are what bring Hubbard to his conclusion.

"One of the best things you learn in community theater is to let go of casting stereotypes," Waterbury says. "Hitchcock loved a tall, dark and handsome leading man with a blonde ingénue for a leading lady. We look beyond that and instead seek talent and commitment."

Randall Theatre veteran Jeff Mercer is cast as the plotting Tony, Meagan Kirby as the intended victim, Margot. Jones Oles plays Max Halliday, Margot's friend and protector. Newcomer Tawny Hernandez is cast as Tony's accomplice, Captain Lesgate, and Steve DuMouchel is the mundane Inspector Hubbard. Todd Lowenberg plays policeman Thompson, who is hot on a murderer's heel.

"Meagan Kirby is what we theater people call a triple threat," Waterbury says. "She can sing, dance and act. I've worked with her on so many productions that I cast her without an audition. Jeff Mercer also is a triple threat. The combination of his audition and seeing him perform in a pivotal role in Randall's production of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' made him a clear choice to play Tony. In life, he is kind, thoughtful and sweet. The exact opposite of his character in 'Dial M.' "

DuMouchel — new to Randall and the Rogue Valley — comes with a ton of experience, Waterbury says.

"He nailed the audition to the point where all of us at the table were a little giddy with excitement," she says. "He's got great wit and fits right in with our group."

Hernandez wears many hats. He's worked as soundboard operator on other shows.

Lowenberg was first cast in the show as a policeman with two lines and minimal stage time, Waterbury says.

"He's quite excited and willing to do whatever is needed for the show, so I switched some things around so he also is a reporter that originally was just a voice on the telephone."

Design for the stylish, 1950s London apartment for "Dial M for Murder" is by Randall's resident set designer Nico Hewitt. Costumes and properties are by Toni Holley, lighting is by Kelly Wright Latham, assistant costume design is by Celetta Katski, sound and video is by John Wing, and stage manager is Sarah Reeder.

"If I could use two words to describe this production, they would be delightfully suspenseful," Waterbury says.

Jeff Mercer plays Tony Wendice and Meagan Kirby plays Margot Wendice in Randall Theatre's production of the thriller 'Dial M For Murder,' opening Friday, Sept. 22. [Photo by Denise Baratta]