Dialing M

By on 5 October, 2015 in Fun, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there’s somebody nobody knows about.” ― Alfred Hitchcock


Rehearsals are in full throttle for our upcoming production at the Playhouse, Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott. From the pen that gave us Wait Until Dark, which ran at the Playhouse in our 2013 Season, this thriller opens on October 22 and plays through November 1. It is directed by Fiona Macleod, the set is designed by Mike Winkelman, costumes by Danny Davidson and Mariah Reilly, lighting and sound by James Treadway. Our cast is Michael Buchanan, Stephen Dubberley, Matthew Givens, Brittney Herndon, and Cushing Phillips, William (Trey) Flowers. Some cast members were able to take time to chat about the play, their characters, and how they approach this work. There are no spoiler alerts. Where’s the fun in that!?

Greg Thornton: We love to be scared, whether as children, with Halloween such an exciting time, tales at bedtime with all the lights out, ghost stories around a campfire, then, as teens and adults watching horror movies, thrillers, and monster flicks, and on and on. Why do you suppose that is?

Michael Buchanan: Fear is a great way to feel alive! That’s why roller coasters are so popular, as well. We like to have brushes with death, as long as we’re fairly certain no actual harm will come to us. Horror movies, thrillers and thrill rides are the closest a lot of us are willing to come to danger.

Stephen Dubberley: I’m not so sure that we like being frightened in so much as it is that we like our body’s reaction to fear. The adrenaline surge experienced by a theater patron has its precedent in ancient man’s quest to survive the real flesh and blood monsters of the ancient world, minus actual tooth and claw (hopefully). We have become rather adept at creating our own imaginary monsters, human, superhuman, and otherwise in order to feel more alive, perhaps even immortal.

Brittney Herndon: I think it’s not simply being scared, but perhaps facing a fear and surviving. The feeling of power to look fear or darkness in the eye and then live to tell about it. It’s a rush of excitement, a rush of conquering the unknown.

Greg Thornton: The Playhouse did Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark two seasons ago. It is such an edge-of-the-seat play, frightening, especially the final scene. That had a lot of physical threat to it. Dial M for Murder plays a much more psychological game. Can you speak to that a bit?

Michael Buchanan: Wait Until Dark puts you in the shoes of the victim. Dial M for Murder puts you in the shoes of the killer, and that’s a whole other ball game. You have to choose, do you want to see him get away with it or do you want to see him get caught? Either way, you’re on the edge of your seat.

Stephen Dubberley: To me, the two shows do seem to parallel one another: confidence games among the criminally minded results in misplaced fingerprints, blackmail, and the threat of some very sobering violence inflicted upon the innocent at the end. In Dial M for Murder, our victim is at the whim of some masterful gamesmanship: point-counterpoint chess moves with a life hanging in the balance. It is rather like a mental tug-of-war to the very end.

Brittney Herndon: Oh yes. Dial M for a Murder is certainly a “catch me if you can” plot. It’s a battle of wits, to see who can triumph on the battlefield of brains. The antagonist is a villain who doesn’t confront you face to face as a physical threat, but a villain who lurks about the shadows trying to twist and distort the world around his prey to make it fit into his plan. He invades your mind through a facade of charm and fake empathy, making you see what he wants you to see.

Greg Thornton: In Knott’s obituary in the Independent of London, it states: (Dial M for Murder has) “a fascinating web of clues, counter-clues, and red herrings that so intrigued theater audiences is typical of the way his mind works. . . . Every detail of his plot is placed with the deadly accuracy of stroke in a championship tournament.” Would you agree?

Michael Buchanan: This show is so meticulously thought out that the genius of Knott’s creation can be felt in every line of dialogue and in every movement of stage direction. It’s such a joy to bring it to life.

Stephen Dubberley: The tennis analogy is certainly relevant to Dial M For Murder not only in that a former tennis professional is in the mix but also in the driving set up of wit and passion. For much of the play it is a singles match, inching toward a victory for our villain, but when he plays singles against doubles it evens the odds a bit, or does it?

Greg Thornton: It would seem that one of the great challenges for just about all of your characters is keeping the secrets they hold, of not revealing too much about what is actually going on. What Alfred Hitchcock refers to as “the somebody nobody knows about.”

Michael Buchanan: It’s true that every character is living at least a double life, if not triple. Everyone is scrambling to make up for some past mistakes. But what a fantastically tangled web they’ve weaved.

Stephen Dubberley: Dial M for Murder is swirl of secrets. Each of the four main characters has a secret or three, but those secrets are a sort of hot potato, holding on too long can get you burned.

Greg Thornton: Can you talk a bit about what got you interested in the theater, your background, and what brought you to the Playhouse?

Michael Buchanan: My roots in the theater go back to a second grade production of Huckleberry Finn where I had the choice role of King Louis the XVII. The song I sang was a real show stopper. The lyrics were something about heads getting chopped, chopped, going plop, plop, so I hopped, hopped across the ocean blue. Seeing the effect on the audience was too good to give up, although I have for about 23 years. Being able to return to the stage through the generosity of the Playhouse is a real honor and a privilege.

Stephen Dubberley: I didn’t do my first play until my third year of college. I was invited to watch an audition but was then called by the director to read for a small part. I was cast. That was thirty-six years ago. I eventually did a couple of shows at MLT in the early nineties and AUM into the mid-nineties. I was in the middle of my 30-year career with Alabama Public Television and the father of a young son (he’s now 30-years-old) and did no theater at all after AUM’s Medea in 1995. That is until I had the privilege of being cast as Boo Radley and Walter Cunningham in ASF’s To Kill a Mockingbird in 2006. There, I got to know fellow cast member and future Playhouse Artistic Director Greg Thornton. His presence has kept my attention firmly planted on the productions of this theater. I am very proud of my five appearances here and I am hopeful that there will be more.

Brittney Herndon: I began theater as a very young child and continued it all through high school and on until college. I’ve always loved it and would like to branch out to other forms of acting such as voice acting. I was so happy to hear the news of the Playhouse finally opening a few years ago. To have a theater, and a wonderful theater, so close was a dream come true. I quickly began to audition and volunteer there quickly after it opened.


  • Dial M for Murder October 22-November 1, 2015. Performances Th-Sat 7:30; Sun 2:00
  • Joe Thomas Jr. Guitar Pull Tuesday, October 27, 2015 7:00 *Note Date Change*
    • Featured Artists: Dallas Dorsey, V.K. and Chip Spencer, Sundowner Motel
  • 2016 Season Announcement Monday, November 9 7 p.m.

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

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