Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Double Indemnity
The Old Globe

Also see Bill's review of Sideways

Angel Desai and Michael Hayden
What is it about summer that we're willing to lock ourselves up in the dark and watch people try to get away with murder? Is it that we crave the cool, dark theatre over the warm, maybe humid, summer night? Or is it that we have morbid fascination with murderers themselves?

James M. Cain bet that we'd have that morbid fascination—with murder but also with an obsessive sexual attraction that drives it. Mr. Cain's first novel, "The Postman Always Rings Twice," had both of these elements and added a capper—the woman was the sexual aggressor. Theatre can break taboos by showing behavior that would normally be hidden, and both "Postman" as well as "Double Indemnity," his follow-up novella, were highly theatrical despite first being made into films.

What's fascinating about the Old Globe's production is that the company has taken a fairly literary adaptation of Mr. Cain's story, handed it to a director (John Gould Rubin) who specializes in classical theatre, cast the show with five New York-based actors who have classical backgrounds (and gave three of them multiple characters to create), and then turned the bunch loose to make it entertaining. And, oh yes, the Globe management gave the group its small, in-the-round, space in which to stage it.

The result was not the turgid mess you might have predicted, but thoughtful, clever, as well as worth a sit in the dark on what turned out to be a cool summer evening. The design coup (by Christopher Barreca) that makes the space playable is evident as the performance begins, as the stage can be reconfigured by raising and lowering gauzy panels to create different settings while still keeping central a grave-like marker that could be made into various kinds of furniture and which could be rotated to serve different functions in different locales.

The result is a story that is told straightforwardly while maintaining momentum through quick scene shifts that are facilitated by raising or lowering the gauze and rotating the grave marker.

That story revolves around an insurance salesman (Michael Hayden), who becomes sexually obsessed with the wife of the couple on whom he was calling (Angel Desai). The two connect and plot to murder the husband (Murphy Guyer) for insurance money. And they carry it off, despite close calls with the man's daughter (Megan Ketch) and a friendly man on a train (Vayu O'Donnell). But the insurance company also investigates the circumstances surrounding its claims, and this one doesn't pass the smell test for the claims agent (Mr. O'Donnell) and his boss (Mr. Guyer). Eventually, clues come along that unravel everything the obsessed couple planned.

Oddly enough, Mr. Hayden, whose performances I have enjoyed several times in the past, seemed a bit flat-footed on opening night. But, Ms. Desai's wicked queen was very seductive indeed, and Mr. Guyer, Ms. Ketch, and Mr. O'Donnell became completely different characters with ease each time they appeared.

In the end, it is all a piece of fluff, but in the hands of this crew it is made to seem much weightier—and far more morbidly fascinating. Performances have been extended by a week, to September 1.

The Old Globe presents Double Indemnity, adapted by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, based on the book by James M. Cain. In the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets (starting at $29) may be purchased at the box office, online at, or by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE. See the Old Globe website for a list of performance times.

Directed by John Gould Rubin with Scenic Design by Christopher Barreca, Costume Design by David Israel Reynoso, Lighting Design by Stephen Strawbridge, Sound Design by Elizabeth Rhodes, Projection Design by Keith Skretch, and Original Music by Kwan-Fai Lam.

The cast features Murphy Guyer, Angel Desai, Michael Hayden, Megan Ketch and Vayu O'Donnell.

Photo credit: Jim Cox

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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