San Diego Theater Review: DOUBLE INDEMNITY (Old Globe in Balboa Park)

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by Tony Frankel on August 3, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

STAGE NOIR

In many ways, the stage adaptation of James Cain’s novel, Double Indemnity, is a radical departure from the iconic film from director/writer Billy Wilder. The film—co-written by Cain’s contemporary and rival Raymond Chandler, who was Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema LA review of “Double Indemnity” at Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in San Diegoknown to deride Cain’s novels—contains deliciously noir dialogue that Wilder and Chandler used to get past the censors. Yet the dialogue in David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright’s version, which just opened at the Old Globe, is practically tame compared to the movie. In this tale of an insurance agent who teams up with a femme fatale to murder her husband, there is little of the wisecracking dame and know-it-all fella that film noir is known for. Instead, Pichette and Wright took an obvious gamble and decided to merely tell the story. Surprisingly, it works.

Inventive director John Gould Rubin had scenic designer Christopher Barreca install a turntable at the in-the-round theater so that we get different perspectives on the murderers whose lives begin to unravel once their grisly deed is done. Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema LA review of “Double Indemnity” at Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in San DiegoEschewing representational scenery, Keith Skretch’s projection designs shimmer on scrims hanging above the action. One particularly clever touch has actors light their cigarettes without a flame, yet their smoke floats up above their heads (the tiny click of the metal lighters is one of the many terrific touches by sound designer Elizabeth Rhodes). A solitary set piece acts as a living room couch, a hospital bed, a car and more, while stationary playing areas around the turntable create an office, a living room, etc, but I had trouble buying the sofa as a car.

This set-up allows Rubin to build up a tense pace as scenes practically overlap each other. Even though most viewers know a murder is coming, Rubin slowly builds the suspense in Act I, and allows the fun story and marvelous actors to take it from there Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema LA review of “Double Indemnity” at Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in San Diegoin the second act. Michael Hayden and Angel Desai play the scheming couple Walter and Phyllis as ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary circumstance. While this seemed odd at first, this choice allowed seemingly secondary characters to take center stage. Megan Ketch is a powerhouse as Lola, the vulnerably petulant daughter who mistrusts her stepmother, and Murphy Guyer is spectacularly riveting performing double-duty as Keyes, the hard-nose insurance investigator, and the doomed businessman, Herbert Nirlinger.

This production should in no way shape or form be compared with the movie. They are completely different beasts. Those expecting the crackling wit and Hopper-esque images of black-and-white film noir may be disappointed, even as lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge offers those fabulous slanting blind effects. Leave your mind open and allow the story to take you on a satisfying thrill ride.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema LA review of “Double Indemnity” at Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in San Diegophotos by Jim Cox

Double Indemnity
Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
scheduled to end on September 1, 2013
for tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE
or visit http://www.www.TheOldGlobe.org

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