Update for the weekend of 9/13-9/15:
After the show I saw on 9-7, the lead actor was dismissed from the production. I don't have the ego to assume the review had anything to do with that - anyone seeing that show would not have been surprised by that unusual yet necessary move.
The review below has been updated to reflect the current productions, which is a far cry from last week's show. I applaud Moonlight for acting quickly and decisively.
Full Disclosure: Moonlight management contacted me about the personnel change and offer to comp my ticket for a 're-review'. I had heard of the change through Social Media and had already purchased another ticket when I received the message. No comps will be accepted from the theater(s) I review to preserve my anonymity and integrity. I thank Moonlight for the offer.
Dial M for Murder is, as Director Nathan Paul writes in the program, a play where 'The mystery becomes not as much "Whodunit', but 'how are they going to catch him' ". And to me, a mystery on stage revolves around three legs: the plot, the twist or puzzle, and the characters. As written, the story works well on all three. I find the story weaving all these together to be a bit slow, but the cast does a fine job pulling everything together and making it work.
As Director Paul indicates, the show is very plain about who is the 'bad guy' - and it becomes a matter of if and how he'll be caught. Ray Palen's portrayal of Tony Wendice has nuance, more than few sly smiles, and injections of character. Per the pre-show introduction and Moonlight's Facebook entry, Palen had had the script for 48 hours before the show, but had performed the play as the character twice before and it showed. Even when he had the occasional line flub, he covered it smoothly and in character; if you hadn't recently seen the show, you'd never have known. This was a VERY good performance by an actor I hope to hear more of in the future. His presence raised the performances of the other actors - most likely simple confidence in his abilities and memories.
On a similar note, as the actor who's entire character is based on interaction with Palen's Tony, Kenny Forthun's Captain Lesgate benefited from an actual background and proper explanation of why he'd be willing to go along with Tony's plans. It was night and day for Forthun as his motivations and relative reluctance made sense to the viewer where it didn't before.
One Mea Culpa from the previous review: I unintentionally maligned the sole female performer (Kayleigh Mollycheck as Margot Wendice), when I included her as part of the cast of 'British' characters whose accents were a bit spotty. Margot is in fact American and so ANY accent she uses would be casually picked up by association (and/or Kayleigh reflects accents accidentally, as many do) - my apologies for the disservice. In this weekend's production, she was much more of a force onstage, almost daring her fellow actors to keep up. Mollycheck's Margot was a real person as opposed to the cardboard cutout of the week before.
Joshua Hernandez's Max Halliday was better, more broadly the ex-boyfriend still unhappy that his feelings weren't returned. As the 'other' American, his character was played with flair, but Hernandez has some verbal issues that are distracting; specifically he speaks in a narrow range of tone, with the only change being one of volume when excited or angry. He's an excellent actor, and this minor issue takes nothing away from the production, but would improve his style and presence to be more believably in character.
Chief Inspector Hubbard (Barry Draper) is played with extreme British reserve, and feels entirely appropriate and well done. Hubbard really doesn't give Draper an opportunity to stretch as an actor, and I hope something edgier is in his future.
One notable change is with the Bobby character played by Reilly Thorrell. Last week, Thorrell's Bobby provided a sort of intermission entertainment, trying to ad-lib with the audience; his accent was all over the board, and he needs to work his improv abilities a bit more. This week, the intermissions were 'Bobby-free' and while I didn't care for the ad-libbing much, I found the two intermissions long and actually thought that maybe having him out on the second intermission might have been a good compromise.
The set was well built - doors being slammed has a very solid sound, and the walls never budged. It's a positive point for the production, and with many Community theaters not even using solid walls (or trying to make flats work as solid walls) it was a pleasant change.
This production now resembles the Moonlight efforts I've seen before, and the initial missteps should not be counted against the new; you've got one more weekend to catch Dial M - don't miss it!
Grade: B - mostly family-friendly except for one brief violent scene; small children might be bored early on.