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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on September 18th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 28 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 28

The Santa Maria Civic Theatre starts its 55th season with a Hitchcockian classic


Margot (Sarah Willingham) and Max (Alan Foster, right) hope that Margot’s husband Tony (Jeffrey Staso, center) doesn’t suspect their past affair in Dial M for Murder.

The Santa Maria Civic Theatre kicked off its 55th season with a suspenseful tour de force, Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knox. The production is a reminder that the Civic Theatre—while powered entirely by volunteer effort—can provide live, professional-level theater with plenty of drama.

Dial M for Murder is a classic tale of intrigue and deception. I remember viewing Alfred Hitchcock’s black-and-white depiction of the story years ago, but couldn’t remember the plot well enough to spoil the end. I was conscious of the fact that several times my heart was beating quite fast, and the tension I felt was palpable.

The play is set in 1954 in a living room in London. The home is that of Tony and Margot Wendice, a well-to-do British couple. But, when the play begins, Margot is not with her husband. Instead she’s at home with a Mr. Max Haliday.

Margot (played by Sarah Willingham) and Max (played alternately by Alan Foster and Vince Surra) have a history. They obviously carried on a relationship at one time, but gave it up because Margot was married. Things begin smelling fishy when Margot tells Max that one of the last letters he sent here was stolen, and that someone has been threatening to blackmail her via anonymous notes.

The husband, Tony, arrives, and Margot and Max assume the roles of platonic friends. They assume Tony is still ignorant of their past affair. The conversation turns to Max’s work: he’s visiting from America, where he works as a writer for a TV show—a TV show about murder. Their dialogue casts a foreshadowing cloak over the play, especially Max’s insight that there is no such thing as a perfect murder because the plotter can never construct a plan without uncertainty.

Catch the show
The Santa Maria Civic Theatre presents its production of Dial M for Murder on Sept. 20, 21, 27, 28 and Oct. 4 and 5 at 7 p.m. at the theater, 1660 N. McClelland St., Santa Maria. Cost is $15, $13 for active military, and $10 for students. More info: 1-800-838-3006.

Margot and Max leave to catch a show, and Tony promises he will be there by intermission. But, as soon as the duo leaves, the cuckold husband reveals he is privy to more than he lets on. He makes a phone call to inquire about buying a car from a man named Lesgate, whom he invites over. When the man arrives, we learn how dastardly Tony really is.

Jeffrey Staso portrays Tony with a calm and cool air. He is a plotting character, taking time—years, in fact—to put his plan into motion. He wants this man, Lesgate (Westley Kossuth), to kill his wife. He has enough information on Lesgate to blackmail him, and relates his intentions with a calm, collected demeanor. Staso’s performance is the lynchpin that keeps the swirling plot of suspense moving; he provides a villain who is more than just melodramatic pomp.

The plot continues with the attack and aftermath—a truly sordid trail of events. The rest of the cast, including an inspector played by Stuart Wenger and his subordinate played by Noah Esquivel, help bring the plot to completion. All of the actors use British accents rather comfortably. They also relate well the stuffy language and culture of the 1950s; they’re more concerned with brandy bottles than bloody murders.

All in all, the Santa Maria Civic Theatre’s production of Dial M for Murder is everything you’d want from a live theater experience. Interweaving plot lines, furtive glances, and hidden clues all combine into a story full of depth that makes you forget it’s all contained in one room on a street in Santa Maria.

Arts Editor Joe Payne loves a plot full of suspense. Contact him at

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