“There’s no reason why a murder story can’t be as good as anything else,” opines 1950s television writer Max Halliday (R. Ward Duffy) in Frederick Knott’s Dial “M” for Murder. Which is true enough—except that in the age of CSI, we’ve all turned into amateur forensic sleuths, making it tough for a mystery to stay one step ahead of us. Knott’s play—and Pioneer Theatre Company’s production—don’t actually try to do so, at least not in the conventional sense. The story isn’t a whodunit, in that we already know the bad guy: Ex-tennis pro and golddigger Tony Wendice (Fletcher McTaggart) is soliciting the killing of his wife Margot (Amy Tribbey, pictured with Mark Light-Orr) in order to collect a sizeable inheritance. When the attempt goes awry, the real question becomes whether or not he will get away with (attempted) murder.
Anyone who watched Columbo back in the day knows the setup, and the appeal of watching a skilled cat play dumb with his smugly confident mouse. The cat here—Inspector Hubbard—is played with gusto by Roger Forbes, and it’s a delicious performance in which the methodical investigator lays out the rope with which Tony is bound to hang himself. The sparring is complemented by a terrifically ominous light design, and direction by Gavin Cameron-Webb so restrained that when the springing of the trap is accompanied by one terrific piece of stagecraft, it shows how even a familiar murder story can be as good as anything.
Dial “M” for Murder @ Pioneer Theatre Company, 300 S. 1400 East, 801-581-6961, through April 4. PioneerTheatre.org