In its 10th season, Triad Stage was designated as one of the nation’s top ten most promising regional theatres by the American Theatre Wing (founder of the Tony Awards). When you’re at the top, where is there to go?

Nowhere but up, apparently.

In Dial “M” for Murder, Triad Stage’s 11th season premiere, director Preston Lane brings audiences a first-class product : a pinch of Hitchcock, a smattering of Broadway, a touch of the London stage. Watching this thriller is a thrill in itself and should not be missed, no matter what theatrical genre you subscribe to.

Spectacular in its understatement and breathtaking in its ability to provoke the imagination, Dial “M” for Murder is another master work in Triad Stage’s opus.

Dial “M” was a play before it was a Hitchcock movie, written by Frederick Knott and premiering on London’s West End in 1952. It went straight to Broadway and in 1954 became a Hitchcock tour de force starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly.

Titled for a phone call that puts a murder in motion, Dial “M” is set in London in an upper-class household where a married couple struggles with the strains on their relationship: her love for another man; his jealousy, selfishness and lack of cash. The ensuing events are predictable but not in the way you would think. There are so many twists and turns in this plot that you must hang on every word, every noise (kudos to sound designer David Smith) , every shadow (lighting designer Norman Coates) if you have even the slightest chance of keeping up. Even so, you’ll likely be surprised.

The acting here could be among the most challenging that Triad Stage has attempted. There are so many words – more than two-and-a-half hours of words – that one wonders how in the world they can all be memorized.

To accomplish this feat, Lane brings in some newcomers: Letitia Lange as the hapless Mrs. Wendice, Fletcher McTaggart as her erstwhile lover and mystery writer Max, and Bjorn Thorstad as the conniving Mr. Wendice. Add to the mix Triad Stage vet Josh Foldy as the shady Captain Lesgate, hand-picked by the husband as person most likely to commit murder, and a perfectly British Andrew Boyer as the Scotland Yard inspector.

Lange, a veteran of Off-Broadway and regional theatre, is the only woman in this production and perhaps stretches a bit for her own place in the cast. She need not. Her presence (in beautiful vintage-looking garments by K. April Soroko) is quite solid although there is from the beginning a shrill anxiousness in her voice that might invite a murderous thought or two.

McTaggart is completely believable in word and gesture and a delight to watch. Our diabolical Thorstad pulls off his character with such finesse you’d swear he’s had real-life practice.

One of the many joys of seeing a Triad Stage production is that the play starts before the first word is uttered. In this theatre, sets really do serve to introduce the productions. And Dial “M”  is no exception.

Scenic designer Anya Klepikov truly gives theatre-goers a Hollywood set experience. She pairs hard angles with soft fabrics, constructs a see-through bedroom, and uses vertical blinds as a projection screen with images (from projections designer Bill McCord) that will give you both chills and chuckles. There’s a first-floor flat stairway that you see without seeing and a garden terrace that an observer longs to walk out onto.

A bit of “Pink-Pantherish” background music provides another dimension in this work and is truly ingenious, breaking up the voluminous dialogue and adding a bit of lightness to a plot that grows more and more intense.

If Dial “M” for Murder is any indication, Triad Stage’s 11th year will be another award-winning season.

The show continues through September 25. For details, see the sidebar.