“Dial M” brings more than murderous thrills

Jungle Theater produces a deeply thought-provoking piece.

Dylan Hester

 

“Dial M for Murder”

When: Feb. 3 through March 18th

Where: Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave S.

You may already know the plot but even if youâÄôve seen âÄúDial M for Murder,âÄù Alfred HitchcockâÄôs classic 1954 thriller, you may not have grasped the full significance of the story.

The stage play, written two years prior by Frederick Knott, brings the many subtleties of the story to life. The Jungle Theater opened their 2012 season with a play that is not only thrilling but thoroughly thought-provoking on the stage.

This is not the first time the Jungle Theater has produced “Dial M for Murder.” They had done it several times in their previous location just around the corner on Lake Street. But director and set designer Bain Boehlke believes that âÄúDial MâÄù is constantly relevant.

In the play, Tony Wendice marries Margot for her money and plans to have her killed, inherit her fortune and free himself of his charade of a marriage. Tony is aware that Margot is having an affair with Max Halliday, an American television writer. He uses this knowledge to create an elaborate plot of blackmail, bribery and murder.

But as a stage performance, “Dial M for Murder” goes far beyond a simple âÄúwho dunnit.âÄù In fact, one of the most consistently intriguing elements of the play is its setting.

The cerebral murder mystery takes place in just one room: the living area of a London flat. The set is meticulously detailed and lavishly decorated.

“Theater is about the lives we live. We live our lives in rooms, in environments and in contexts,” says Boehlke.

In designing this particular set, Boehlke treats the room as another character. “The world of the play is as much a part of that as the lines that are on the printed page,” he says.

Thus, regardless of oneâÄôs experience with other stagings or with HitchcockâÄôs film, at the Jungle Theater, “Dial M for Murder” is an immersion into a unique world.

“Dial M for Murder,âÄù at its most basic, is a story about stories. As each character tries to piece together the story behind the violent crime from his or her own perspective, the audience must continually examine each potential narrative. Some are obvious lies âÄî desperate attempts to rid oneself of blame âÄî which clash with the events of the opening scenes. Others are earnest and plausible explanations for the unsolved mystery.

For all of the drawn-out lines of thought, however, the plot itself becomes incredibly focused in the end. In fact, the ultimate judicial decision is determined by one last moment of tension and it comes down to a set piece. A characterâÄôs possible ability or inability to unlock the door and enter the room determines the final justice that will be brought to light.

“Love is nothing without justice,” Boehkle says. “ThatâÄôs what the play is about: justice. Life itself is harmony, but we lose sight of lifeâÄôs goals. What is our responsibility here? What is this about?”

At the heart of each character is a motive. Be it money, honest love or the truth behind a murder, their drives are fundamentally human.

âÄúEverybody knows human,âÄù Boehlke says. âÄúThatâÄôs why we go to the theater. WeâÄôre not looking for ideas; ideas are a dime a dozen. WeâÄôre looking for truth.âÄù

And that is what keeps “Dial M for Murder” relevant as a stage performance. Boehkle says many productions of this play set out to satirize the murder mystery genre. But at the Jungle Theater, “Dial M for Murder” demonstrates its strongest thrills at its very core: human characters exploring truths and potential truths, all within the subtle context of a single room.