Sierra Rep's 'Murder' is a satisfying battle of wits

04/04/2010 1:02 AM

04/04/2010 6:03 AM

'Dial M for Murder'

• RATING: ***
• WHERE: Fallon House, Columbia State Historic Park, off Parrotts Ferry Road, Columbia
• WHEN: Through April 18. 2 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.
• RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 15 minutes, including an intermission
• TICKETS: $18-$28
• INFORMATION: 532-3120 or www.sierrarep.org

Star Guide

**** Excellent
*** Good
** Fair
* Poor

COLUMBIA -- A cocky former tennis star thinks he's outsmarted everyone with the perfect murder plot.

But his plan isn't nearly as airtight as he thought.

Frederick Knott's "Dial M For Murder" is brilliantly crafted, with twists and turns to keep the audience engaged from start to finish. As directed and designed by Dennis Jones, Sierra Repertory Theatre's production at the Fallon House offers intrigue, suspense and glamour.

Though it has a few flaws, the show is a satisfying battle of wits. The story was made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 movie, starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. The tale was updated again in 1998 with the film "A Perfect Murder," featuring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Jones' marvelous set is a high-end 1950s London apartment filled with luxurious touches, including a stained-glass window. Former tennis star Tony Wendice (Steve Marvel) can afford to live here only because of the wealth of his heiress wife, Margot (Karen LaMoureaux).

When he discovers she is having an affair with American TV writer Max (Matt Czornobil), he decides to have her murdered to ensure he gets to keep her money. But when Margot survives, Tony is forced to improvise new plans.

Marvel is urbane and suave as the murderous husband, but he sometimes overacts in the scenes where he is worried that someone may find him out. His obviously guilty looks make you sometimes wonder why he isn't arrested immediately.

LaMoureaux's Margot is surprisingly feisty considering her delicate looks. She won't be pushed around by her husband or her lover. Czornobil comes off as a bit of a cad in the beginning but transforms into the most noble character by the end.

As Capt. Lesgate, who is blackmailed into agreeing to murder Margot, Bob Fairbrook is adept at the role of a mouse in this cat-and-mouse game. Ty Smith is penetrating as British Inspector Hubbard, but unfortunately doesn't attempt a British accent.

Costume designer Jose M. Rivera outfits the cast in chic attire and does an especially good job with the elegant clothes worn by Margot.

Christopher Van Tuyl's well-placed spotlights add to the drama of the murder scheming.

Jones couldn't have done a better job in staging the ending. Nobody says a word, but the pointed lighting and the expressions on each character's face are more powerful than any dialogue.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at lmillegan@modbee.com or 578-2313.

For more on Modesto area arts, visit www.twitter.com/lisamillegan and watch Bee Scene on video at videos.modbee.com.

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