Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Double Indemnity

Also see Susan's review of Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play

Marty Lodge
Is it possible to reimagine the conventions of the film noir within a theatrical framework, and is the experiment worth the trouble? In the case of Double Indemnity, now at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, the answer to both questions is yes.

Daniel Conway's atmospheric projections and Matthew M. Nielson's sultry sound design ground the scene in 1936 Los Angeles and the gray world of insurance agent Walter Huff (Marty Lodge), who gets more than he expects during a call. The policyholder, a laconic businessman named Nirlinger (Todd Scofield), isn't at home but his smoldering wife Phyllis (Celeste Ciulla) is, and she has a lot of questions for Huff about insurance—and other things.

"It's hard to sell something to somebody if they're happy with what they've got," Huff tells Phyllis. He's talking about car accident insurance, but she has something else in mind. Before long, Huff is telling Phyllis about the concept of double indemnity: a provision in an insurance policy that pays double for death in an unlikely circumstance, such as a railroad accident.

Director Eleanor Holdridge understands how to present the drama—adapted by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright from James M. Cain's novel—in stylized terms. Conway's scenic design is all deceptive surfaces, a wall of pivoting panels that allow actors to vanish, and a door that (thanks to Nancy Schertler's lighting design) shifts color from dark wood stain to blood red. Kathleen Geldard's costumes tell the viewer everything necessary to know about the characters.

Lodge is magnetic in a world-weary way, presenting Huff as a man who's just begun thinking about the opportunities he'll never have. In her postures and her patterns of speech, Ciulla conveys the desperation underneath Phyllis' relentless need to seduce those around her. (On press night, she also rescued the production from the absence of a climactic sound cue.) However, there's a lack of erotic chemistry between the two actors: sure, Phyllis is desirable and available, Huff would easily slide into an affair with her, but the heat and urgency that could drive him to participate in a murder are missing.

In addition to the clueless Nirlinger, Scofield plays Huff's co-worker Keyes, as outspoken as the other character is restrained. Molly Cahill Govern and Danny Gavigan add to the atmosphere in several roles each.

Round House Theatre
Double Indemnity
May 30th - June 24th
By James M. Cain, adapted for the stage by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright
Huff: Marty Lodge
Phyllis: Celeste Ciulla
Nirlinger/Keyes: Todd Scofield
Lola/Secretary: Molly Cahill Govern
Nino/Jackson/Norton and Huff Understudy: Danny Gavigan
Nino/Jackson/Norton Understudy: Robbie Gay
Directed by Eleanor Holdridge
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-5644-1100 or

Photo: Danisha Crosby