Double Indemnity: The Old Globe stages tale of sex, murder, betrayal


By Diana Saenger

Film noir fans are in for a real treat as the Old Globe prepares to stage the San Diego premiere of “Double Indemnity,” directed by John Gould Rubin, based on the book by James M. Cain, and adapted by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright.

“Double Indemnity,” finds Walter Huff (Michael Hayden), a Los Angeles insurance agent, who while selling insurance to Herbert Nirlinger (Murphy Guyer) is roped into a dangerous situation. Herbert’s wife, Phyllis (Angel Desai), seduces Walter into murdering Herbert to collect the insurance money.

Rubin — a director, producer, teacher and a former actor — has worked on almost every genre of stage production, but is a real fan of film noir. As a teacher, he said he strived to lead his students to new forms of work that is more adventurous.

“I wanted to give them an experience in class that allowed them to feel they could act in material with unusual demands, so I used scenes from film noir,” Rubin said. “In theater, scenes are literary, but in film, there are visual demands that require the actors move in certain ways to make beats happen,” he said.

Film noir is associated with stylish crime dramas popular in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. It has specific style fundamentals — suspicious and sleazy motivations, black- and-white photography with shadowy and sharp angles, and foreboding music and sexuality. Rubin had this challenge in bringing “Double Indemnity” to the “round” Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre stage.

“We have 30 scenes, and representing all of those scenes with sound, light, video, the turntable and modern theatrical devises, really attracted me,” he said.

“Double Indemnity,” was a popular 1944 film starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. It garnered seven Academy Award nominations. Rubin wants audiences to know the play is based on the book, and is different from the film.

“We’re using the original script of the play with a few changes. I presume people coming to a play based on a novel presume there will be changes to adapt it to the stage. I’m hoping that transition is so evident that when they come into the theater, it will divest them of preconceptions.”

In this production, Rubin said he did want to play to style, but to the reality of the circumstances, and allow each character to analyze his or her circumstances.

“Like for Phyllis; how did she descend into the kind of life she’s in and how does she psychologically engage in an act of murder?” Rubin proposed. “And what makes Walter take that step from fantasizing about, to actually committing, a crime and then taking that slide into a horrible nightmare?”

Rubin’s approach to casting was to look for actors who would go at their characters purely and cleanly through character analysis and not try to play a style piece.

“I wanted them to let the style be a function of the way the lines dictate and the way we’re doing the play,” he said. “And also I wanted it to be really sexy, because this genre has a combination of murder and sex that I wanted to feel really palpable. I hope audiences find this version riveting and are able to identify with these characters and feel as if they’ve lived this scenario right along with them.”

If you go

■ What: ‘Double Indemnity’

■ When: Matinees, evenings July 27-Aug. 25

■ Where: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego

■ Tickets: From $29

■ Box Office: (619) 234-5623

■ Website: