“When celebrity photographer Milton Greene shot Marilyn Monroe in 1957, he made sure she wore a red dress. Chris de Burgh was a little-known singer until 1986, when he crooned about his Lady in Red. In 1999’s The Matrix, young Neo nearly took a bullet in the head—and why? Because he was distracted by a woman in a red dress. And while few remember much about Queen Elizabeth’s 2012 jubilee, who can forget Kate Middleton showing up in that red Alexander McQueen dress?”
Thus begins an article that appeared in AdWeek this past summer, discussing the “Red Dress Effect” in terms of marketing and selling. There’s something incredibly iconic and powerful about red-clad women, and the fact that our costume designer, Melissa Heller, has decided to put Margot in a red dress at the top of the show speaks directly to our production’s take on the only female character in this play.
Dial “M” for Murder premiered in 1952, a year that saw most British women confined to playing housewife, looking after and submitting to their husbands. This is the world in which Margot Wendice lives and operates. But while she puts on a good show of being the happy housewife, the text gives us many little windows into her experience that illustrate just how subversive this character actually is. Margot spends the course of the play navigating her own power – she refuses to be purely submissive in her relationships; she is not afraid of her own sexuality; she knows what she wants, and attempts to have everything (despite some inherent contradictions); and she insists on being an active participant in her own life, refusing to be defeated by the circumstances in which she finds herself.
Margot is a red-dress-wearing woman, in every sense of the phrase.
As we’ve rehearsed this show, and explored these characters and relationships, Brandon (our director) has been adamant about Margot’s role and presence as a powerful woman. Even in her moments of weakness and emotional defeat, Margot is quick to identify her own needs, and to take care of and stand up for herself. Her self-reliance and independence are qualities that easily I relate to as a 21st century woman, and I’ve sometimes forgotten just exactly how revolutionary these attitudes were in the 1950s. There are many opportunities for layers of objectives and nuances of tactics – juicy things to work with as an actor – and the more I can root myself in the circumstances of a 1952 reality, the more and more interesting this character becomes.
As we move into tech week this weekend, adding in all of the costumes, sets, lights, sounds, and meteorological elements (yes, you read that right), I’m looking forward to seeing this world come together, and really investing myself into Margot’s very controlled, intricately-balanced, and complex reality.
Bring on that red dress.
(P.S. You can read that AdWeek article here: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/well-buy-nearly-anything-woman-red-dress-159146; and a little bit about British women in 1952 here: http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/the-way-women-were-60-years-ago )