Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Reviews: Intriguing Effort Putting DOUBLE INDEMNITY Onstage

Double Indemnity/reinvented for the stage by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright/based on the novel by James M. Cain/directed by John Gould Rubin/Old Globe, San Diego/Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre/extended through September 1

First and foremost, be aware that this new stage version of the classic Double Indemnity is not based on the 1944 film noir adaptation by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. It is based on the novel by James M. Cain and re-envisioned for the stage by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright. That has its good and bad points. Good, in that the stagecraft and design, as well as the acting and direction, are delightful to watch. Bad, in that the melodramatic ending of the film is so much more delicious and exciting than this intelligent, realistic but rather heavy ending. Extended through September 1, Double Indemnity provides enough entertainment, though, to make it a sell-out hit.

The play is set in 1937. I noticed on opening night that during the initial seduction scene between Walter Huff (Michael Hayden) and Phyllis Nirlinger (Angel Desai) there was very pronounced giggling from the audience when Huff states "We're going to do it!" Desai as Phyllis is sensuously adorning the setee, and the first impression that comes to mind is that doing it obviously refers to f----ing, but what it really alludes to is doing away with her husband Herbert (Murphy Guyer), so that Huff and Phyllis can collect on the husband's insurance. The sexual tension is humorous, but it is clear to see as well that the piece is dated. By present day standards the couple would have been 'rolling in the hay' at the top. But, regardless, it's fun to observe the language, the behavior and how both together generate a laugh.

Act I, for aficionados of the 1944 film, is pretty much the same with Huff narrating to the audience about how he managed to get himself lured into the setup and eventual murder. In his opening monologue, you cannot help but notice the unusual structure of the set around him, so let me switch early on to the element of set design. Christopher Barreca's set and the lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge are absolutely brilliant. There is a turntable which moves in a circle and furniture adapts itself from one locale to the next, like a bed or setee converting to a bench. The small stage is boarded by screens on four sides which rise and fall at various intervals to cage/emprison the characters, really making one feel their fear, entrapment and doom. It works beautifully. Act II is where most of the action becomes radically different from the movie. Huff confesses to Keyes (also played by Murphy Guyer) that he has murdered Nirlinger, after Phyllis has attempted to kill him in a 'love turned hate' rage. I do not wish to disclose the entire ending to spoil the fun, but merely to alert that it is not the same as in the film. I will only repeat that it is less melodramatic, and add that in a good way there is still intrigue and an extremely lurid look particularly represented by Phyllis' red gown, designed by David Israel Reynoso.

The acting ensemble is first rate under John Gould Rubin's wonderful pacing and staging. Hayden is cool and determined as Huff, accepting of the conflict, never showing an ounce of turmoil beneath. Desai as Phyllis offers a much different interpretation than Barbara Stanwyck's iciness. She is sexy and cunning in a very feminine but uncalculating way. Guyer is superb in both roles as the husband and as Keyes. Megan Ketch is riveting as Lola Nirlinger, Herbert's daughter - a role with far less attention on film - and also as Keyes' assistant and a nurse. Vayu O'Donnell completes the excellent group as Lola's boyfriend Sachetti, and essaying two other roles.

I loved the film and found this production somewhat less engrossing, but I laud the creative team and the actors for a stellar evening of theatre, which on its own, as Huff states early on about committing murder, is laden with audacity.

http://www.theoldglobe.org/tickets/production.aspx?PID=10326



Ensemble Theatre Company Is Accepting Applications For 6th Annual Young Playwrights Festiv Photo
Ensemble Theatre Company, Santa Barbara's professional theater, is now accepting applications for its 6th Annual Young Playwrights' Festival for aspiring writers aged 14-19.

Write Act Rep Presents the World Premiere of PIECE OF MIND At The Brickhouse Theatre, Open Photo
PIECE OF MIND, a play by playwright Emma Wood, will be performed by Write Act Rep from December 10th, 2022 – January 29th, 2023, at the Brickhouse Theatre in North Hollywood. Produced by Write Act's award-winning creative team members: Producing artistic director John Lant, producer Tamra Pica with play direction by Susan C. Hunter.

California Repertory Company Presents LOVE & INFORMATION Photo
Be prepared for a kaleidoscopic exploration of a world full of chaos, alienation, and miscommunication in Love & Information, written by Caryl Churchill and directed by Jessica Hanna, which will open at the CSULB Studio Theater on Thursday, December 1st, at 7:30 p.m. Performances will continue through Saturday, December 10th at 7:30 p.m.

Interview: Chatting With Russall S. Beattie On THE EMPIRE STRIPS BACK At Montalban Th Photo
The U.S. tour of the hit Star Wars burlesque parody The Empire Strips Back has begun previews at the Montalban theatre, with opening night on November 30, 2022. This unique show is best described by its creator Russall S. Beattie who let me beam into his creative brain a little.


From This Author - Don Grigware

  Don Grigware was a writer for BroadwayWorld through December 2019.                            ... (read more about this author)