Variety enhances the lives of at least two primary movers in Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s (SSTG) production of Frederick Knotts’ 1952 classic mystery-thriller “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” on the Gaithersburg Arts Barn stage from July 7 through 23. Both have managed to indulge their passion for theater while earning their livings in completely unrelated spheres. “Dial ‘M’ Director David Levin is a retired medical doctor who lives in Potomac, and lead actor and Kentlands resident Mark Steimer is a policy/communications analyst for a government contracting company.
Back in 1969, Levin “was given the choice of doing my military service in Saigon or Bethesda.” The Chicago native opted for two years at the National Cancer Institute; he ended up working there as a statistician doing cancer prevention research until his 2007 retirement. As a result of the nature of his work, he said, another prop will replace the cigarette box specified in Knotts’ original “Dial ‘M’” script.
Levin did “a little bit” of theater in high school and even found time to do a musical during a clinical rotation at University of Chicago Medical School. “I’ve been acting and directing in the (Washington) area since 1970,” said Levin. “I also have designed sets, produced, etc., etc., for several groups. I haven’t worked with SSTG for many years and am having a great time with a very supportive production team and a fine cast.”
Locally, Levin’s first role was the long red underwear-clad Emperor in the Sterling Players’ “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.” Acting in Rockville Musical Theatre’s (RMT) “Fiddler on the Roof,” and gigs for Burtonsville Players ensued, but mostly, he directed for Rockville Little Theatre (RLT), where he also served a 10-year term on its board of directors. That responsibility recently removed, when SSTG invited him to direct, he happily accepted.
Asked his preference for acting or directing, Levin said, “They are two entirely different things. Being director involves a lot more time: you have to be at every rehearsal, and you have to plan.” In addition, Levin, who was en route to paint the set during the interview, noted that he also does his own set design, and this time, even took the publicity photos since the regular photographer was not available.
SSTG’s “Dial ‘M’” will be “a traditional presentation that follows the script closely,” Levin said, noting that even Alfred Hitchcock took 90 percent of his 1954 movie straight from the script, adding a few scenes (and a 13-second cameo appearance) with his characteristic twists.
Pittsburgh native Mark Steimer, who plays Max Halliday in “Dial ‘M’,” said he “first learned to love the staged arts as a performer in junior and senior high school choirs and ensembles, plus plays and musicals including ‘George M!,’ ‘The Best Man’ and ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’”
His local theater beginnings were on several levels: as performer and crew member in musicals, and as contributor to developing a local variety show’s concept and theme. In 1980s Los Angeles, Steimer worked at a television production company, performed in one-act plays, sang in church choirs, small bands and ensembles, and as a wedding soloist, and composed pop and country music. He also managed to study briefly with Frederick Combs of the LA/Actors Lab.
Upon relocating to Montgomery County in 1990, Steimer worked in public relations and strategic communication, and continued to perform–in a gospel choir, numerous musical ensembles as well as faith-based and community theater productions. The University of Maryland, College Park journalism graduate has been on stage in RMT and RLT shows, as well as backstage as assistant producer and sound technician.
Steimer’s original musical, “Together Again for the First Time,” has had two staged readings; in the 2016 RLT show, he sang and played a role; he directed the reading at the 2017 Barton College New Works Festival in Wilson, North Carolina.
While he cited Gooper Pollitt in RLT’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” as his favorite part to date, he said, “Every role brings different challenges. Playing Max Halliday in ‘Dial ‘M’’ is stretching me to be more vulnerable on stage–to let acting decisions follow emotions rather than the other way around.” He credited producer Mara Bayewitz for having “gone out of her way to help me get out of my own way and know Max at a deeper, more meaningful level.”
This is Steimer’s “first time working with SSTG, and they’re making it a great experience. I’ve worked with David (Levin) before, but this is the first time I’ve been under his direction– also a great experience.” Steimer and Levin were fellow cast members in RMT’s “The Music Man” and Steimer, a cast member, and Levin, prop master for RLT’s “Cat.” (2014). For RLT’s “Our Town” Steimer was assistant producer and Levin, stage manager.
Why should people see this play? “It’s a great mystery,” Levin said, “especially in the intimate setting of the Arts Barn. Everyone likes mysteries, so I’m sure it will sell out quickly.”
Steimer offered another reason or two: “Knott’s story and characters are just plain fun. The cast and crew are deeply committed to excellence. And no one needs a reason to spend a couple of hours at the Arts Barn. What a great venue!” Note: Steimer’s Kentlands residence is “just a short walk from” said venue.
Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” will be on stage from July 7 to 23 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Shows start at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20, $12 for age 14 and younger. Call 301-258-6394 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov/leisure/arts/theater-at-the-arts-barn. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.