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“Dial M for Murder” at the Northlight Theater

Thrillers are experiencing a sudden, surprising renaissance in Chicago theater as theaters struggle to entice audiences.

Drury Lane Theater staged Agatha Christie’s work “And Then There Were None” This summer. Raven Theater produced “Night Watch,” A mostly forgotten psychological mystery from the 1970s and now Raven’s talented director, Georgette Verdin, has moved to the Northlight Theater with a progressive new version of “Dial M For Murder,” the 1952 play by Frederick Knott that became Alfred Hitchcock in 1954 . The film was adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher last year (starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland).

Although Hatcher’s version retained its London setting and period style, it transformed a heterosexual love triangle fueled by jealousy and greed into the story of a wealthy married woman who wants to hide her lesbian affair with a crime writer from her dangerous husband. husband. Hubby is no longer a laid-back but handsome tennis pro, enjoying a life beyond his station, but has transformed from a failed writer into a cynical advertiser, whose clients now include a very smart and superior woman who is deeply involved with his own wife.

Hatcher is, of course, a talented, commercially savvy writer, and he clearly knew his mission here was to preserve the box office returns of one of the best plays of the mid-20th century while also appealing to today’s theater. God forbid those who want to put butts in seats without being seen to surrender to the values ​​of the mid-1950s. Ergo, the new “Dial M for Murder,” which premiered at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego last year and now focuses on women outsmarting men who are all too willing to let their own sexist prejudices distract them from the truth, is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even the famous Inspector Hubbard is now unfortunately succumbing to his own patriarchal tendencies.

Not everyone wants this update of a play written in 1952, and some will miss Knott’s original, but there’s no doubt that Hatcher breathes fresh life into the piece, and Verdin’s fast-paced and detailed production benefits from a sizzling little work. The cast includes Nick Sandys (whose carefully guarded detective fits nicely in the new gestalt), Ryan Hallahan (who knows his role is to dispense superficial charm), Felipe Carrasco, and classy leading ladies Elizabeth Laidlaw and Lucy Carapetyan. This is a particularly insightful study by Carapetyan, and some of the most revealing work I’ve seen this long-time Chicago actress do. This is particularly notable because you don’t expect this in genre shows like this – clearly Verdin and Carapetyan decided they wanted to treat this character as a serious and emotionally complex woman, trying to create a very complex escape and survive in a difficult situation. at the same time. Good for them.

“Dial M” was always a carefully constructed thriller, of course, which is what attracted Hitchcock to it in the first place. Hatcher is good enough at his job to keep things tight and avoid obvious anachronisms. I had watched “Dial M” several times before and knew the script pretty well, but the new revisions still kept me on my toes.

Theater Cycle

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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

Review: “Dial M for Murder” (3 stars)

When: By January 7, 2024

Where: Northlight Theater at North Shore Arts Center, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie

Working time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Tickets: $49-$89 at 847-673-6300 and northlight.org

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