In this era of cell phones, who dials anymore? That's why "Dial 'M' for Murder," a stage thriller as quaint as the rotary telephone, will forever remain a mid-20th century period piece.
Based on a BBC telecast, "Dial 'M' " is best known for the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock hit movie starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. It might've been an even bigger hit had the studio granted Cary Grant's wish to play the murder-plotting ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice. But the moguls decided the public wouldn't buy suave Cary as a husband who arranges to have his wife strangled.
Although the film was shot in color, we tend to picture it in antique black and white. In the handsome Engeman Theater production in Northport, director Peter Flynn and the design team of Michael Bottari and Ronald Case preserve the 1950s look of a stylish London flat and the class-conscious formality of its inhabitants and interlopers.
The living room of the Wendices is done up in varying shades of gray except the black telephone on the desk. Which makes Margot Wendice's red dress with the flowing crinoline petticoat and matching pumps and lipstick stand out even more. While we would not mistake the blond Cat Walleck for the late Princess Grace, she moves and speaks with the elegance of a woman of means - appropriately so, as it is her wealth that motivates Tony, cool and fittingly post-athletic as portrayed by Thomas M. Hammond, to contract her murder.
Tony's conscience, if he has one, is salved by Margot's dalliance with an American mystery writer (an eager Benjamin Eakeley). Tony is onto them and has tried extortion. But to gain her entire fortune, he hires a shady character from his past (a guarded Mark Light-Orr) to kill her.
Though he doesn't appear until after intermission, Ed Dixon, as the frumpy police inspector, all but steals the show. We dare not allude to details of the case, but the inspector - think Peter "Columbo" Falk with a British accent - delights in his own deductive powers.
Despite its preposterous plot turns, "Dial 'M' " endures as a classic of the we-know-whodunit genre.
WHAT "Dial 'M' for Murder," a thriller by Frederick Knott
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 11, at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
INFO $50; engemantheater.com, 631-261-2900