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When the audience already knows whodunnit, how does the playwright ratchet up the suspense? The answer lies in Frederick Knott’s classic Dial ‘M’ for Murder, playing at Albuquerque Little Theatre through this weekend. 

Margot Wendice (Ronda Lewis) and her friend Max Halliday (Vince Ascoli) are alone in the apartment she shares with her husband, former tennis star Tony Wendice (David Bello). Tony returns home for a prearranged theater date with Margot and Max but begs off due to extra work. After the two leave, Tony begins to set a trap for Captain Lesgate (Tim Riley), an unsuspecting former classmate whom Tony will blackmail into murdering Margot for her money. No spoilers here. That’s the plan, displayed before us in all its nefarious glory. 

As we all know, even the best-laid plans go awry. And that’s where the suspense comes in, as Tony must adapt his plan to the circumstances that unspool after Margot kills Lesgate in the struggle.

We’re on Margot’s side, of course, and Lewis embodies her as a sophisticated woman who is deeply troubled by the murder. When Inspector Hubbard (Mario Cabrera) shows up to investigate further, his findings land Margot in prison. The stakes are even higher now, driving the tension and our curiosity about the outcome.

The audience was on the edge of their seats for this one. They gasped, they booed, and even laughed out loud at the twists of fate. Playing to them, Cabrera as the Inspector knows what is expected of his character. His role is to entertain and to lead us to a satisfying conclusion. When he and Max collude to save Margot’s life in Act II, we’re with them all the way.

Bello as Tony was roundly booed at curtain call, and took it all with good grace. He played his role as the designated sociopath with a cool confidence that was even the more chilling for his matter-of-fact portrayal. 

Director Nancy Sellin understands this play and that directing it is a matter of following the clues where they lead. She makes sure we do, too. 

Costumes by Joe Moncada were period-appropriate (the play debuted in 1952) and very well suited to the lovely Lewis, down to the red dress copied from Grace Kelly’s wardrobe in the 1954 movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Lighting Designer and Technical Director Glenn Pepe executed a precise plan for the lighting cues and ambience so crucial to the action of the play. 

Thanks to Props Designer Michael Nuckols and Stage Manager Samantha Seaman for positioning all of the clues in the right places. It doesn’t look easy.

—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes