Images by Von Presley Studios
Marion – Every theater needs a niche. Most often, theaters are defined by the type of shows they produce – musicals, traditional community theater shows, avant garde plays, etc. Giving Tree Theater found a different niche – community service. The cast and crew of each show chooses a local human services non-profit and a portion of the proceeds from the show are donated to that group.
As you might expect from a theater with such a positive mission, it has a wonderful feeling to it – homey and inviting. You come out of the brisk evening air to a comfortable lobby with soft, friendly lighting. On one side sits a bookcase filled with scripts. Beverages and snacks are for sale at the counter. The usher is the precocious and lovely pre-teen daughter of the theater owners, and she expertly guides you to your seat. Later, she joins dad on stage for the welcoming speech and has to help him remember what to say. It’s all completely adorable and you feel a bit like you’re part of the family.
The theater itself is filled with unique seating – couches, comfortable chairs, a table and chairs (in case you wanted to bring dinner?) – as well as traditional theater seats. There are little tables scattered about, just the right size to rest your drink upon. The stage isn’t huge, but it’s large enough to present the complicated and realistic set. Set designer Richie Akers, the aforementioned dad, did an excellent job, as every detail was perfect. I particularly enjoyed the use of a mirror which allowed us to see different views of the characters.
Dial M for Murder, by Frederick Knott, is a thriller, involving cheating spouses, shady characters, and, of course, a murderous plot. The upper class Margot (Jessica Link) is cheating on her tennis pro husband, Tony (Matthew James), with nebbish mystery writer Max (Kyle Shedeck). Tony plots Margot’s murder to get his hands on her money and perhaps for revenge, though to be honest, I don’t think he really cares about the betrayal all that much. Of course, events do not proceed as planned.
While the show seemed to suffer from some opening night pacing issues, particularly in the beginning of the play, things always picked up whenever James appears as Tony. There’s a sense of dread from his first moments on stage, and both Link and Shedeck played the ‘fake friendly’ upper class moments well, completely unaware of Tony’s sneering malevolence. Later as Tony plays a cat and mouse game with Captain Lesgate (Logan Adam Schultz), we see the full force of the tennis pro’s calculating mind.
James is excellent as the callow and calculating Tony. He clearly telegraphs to the audience every thought his character has, particularly in the middle of the play as he desperately attempts to keep his plan moving forward. It’s clear James relishes his role as the cunning and evil Tony and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Link gives a strong performance as the woman who is attempting to hold her marriage together despite the machinations of her husband.
A true standout of the show is Scott Humeston, who plays Inspector Hubbard. He seems to channel TV’s Columbo (go ahead and Google it, Millenials) in his portrayal of the rumpled, unorthodox but incredibly clever detective. Humeston and James play off each other well, verbally sparring as they each attempt to find the higher ground. Also good is Schultz as Lesgate, who oozes sleaziness in a supporting role.
A slight quibble were the recorded phone calls. They were obvious recordings and may have taken the audience out of the show. The actors appeared to be rushing their lines to be sure they were done before the next recorded line would start. I think it would have been better to use live actors for the calls.
The end of the play is fascinating to watch and I imagine some of the mystery buffs in the audience probably figured some things out, but I was mesmerized as each kernel of information was revealed. Director David Morton should be commended for delivering an excellent evening of suspense and mystery. If you enjoy a good mystery, this is the show for you.
A portion of this show’s proceeds go to the Catherine McAuley Center, which offers hope and opportunity through basic education for adults and transitional housing for women. So get out to see Giving Tree’s Dial M for Murder – you’re not just seeing a show, you’re making a difference. It runs through November 1.