Death becomes an exercise
At American Stage, the classic thriller Dial M for Murder offers actors an experiment in their evolving craft.
By ROBERT HICKS
Published January 19, 2006
Actors Katherine Michelle Tanner and Brian Shea become a British wife and her illicit American lover in American Stage's revival of Frederick Knott's 1952 play, Dial M for Murder, set in London in the 1950s.
"Acting is a communal art," Shea said. "In the end, it not only requires the actors, director, technicians and a script and the playwright, but the audience. It's different with every performance. It's fresh and it's living. It's a great rush and very invigorating."
Added Tanner, "I love the challenges of all the aspects of acting. I love being challenged and sharing that result in the moment. I'm never bored. Right in the middle of a show, you can find something new. You're never at a loss for discovery.
"I'm much like an explorer. I'm going to explore what I can find tonight and tell that story."
Director John O'Connell is making his American Stage debut with a film noir interpretation of Knott's most famous play, which was adapted into the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Grace Kelly as Margot Wendice and Ray Milland as her husband Tony Wendice. Knott's script depends on cleverness more than mystery to achieve its suspense and surprising plot twists.
"I really saw what our director had in mind. He had a vision of film noir for our production," Shea said. "Even before I knew that was his track, I had been reading the play and could see this old Hitchcockian Vertigo film noir setting. It really came off the page visually for me."
Tanner plays Margot Wendice, the smart yet vulnerable wife whose indiscretion prompts her scorned husband, ex-tennis player Tony (Christopher Swan), to blackmail an old college classmate, Captain Lesgate (Byron Patterson), to murder Margot in order to collect her inheritance. But the plot goes awry, and Margot finds herself the target of a police investigation.
"Knott focuses on the innocent woman caught up in a fatal plot," Tanner said. "While I'm still responsible for my own actions in my love affair with Max, I'm still aware of all these other things going on around me that I don't get the opportunity to discover myself.
"That's a good position for me to be in. It makes it very fresh and in the moment."
Shea plays Max Halliday, an American crime mystery writer who becomes Margot's lover. He is the only one who believes in her innocence after she is arrested, tried and convicted of murder.
"My take on Max is that he's an outsider," Shea said. "Without him, certain parts of the mystery wouldn't get revealed. He's like Columbo. He's a mystery writer and he finds himself in a natural mystery that he has to figure out."
From the first rehearsal, director O'Connell emphasized that each character's demeanor and movements are just as crucial as the dialogue to really getting inside them, said Tanner and Shea.
"We discussed what we as actors discovered about the characters and each other," Shea said. "John's philosophy is that you can't get any understanding of the relationships and the characters themselves unless you physicalize it first."
Added Tanner, "That physical path of that individual really informs you about their needs, their wants, their conflicts, their obstacles. All of those things."
Dial M For Murder, through Feb. 12 at American Stage, 211 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. $21-$34. 727 823-7529; or www.americanstage.org
[Last modified January 18, 2006, 11:22:07]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]