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THEATER REVIEW: “Double Indemnity” at The Old Globe

Beware the sexy woman with legs up to there and skirt slits to match – especially if she splays those gams out on the couch when male company calls. This dame is Trouble.

Her name is Phyllis (Angel Desai), beautiful but bored second wife of pipe and supply exec Herbert Nirlinger (Murphy Guyer), visited by insurance salesman Walter Huff (Michael Hayden) because Nirlinger’s insurance policies are about to lapse.

In true noir style, one look at Phyllis and Huff’s a goner. The instant spark between the two erupts quickly into a plot to sell Nirlinger an accident policy – after all, he’s out there in the oil fields often, where accidents do occur. And, Huff notes, if he should happen to die on a train, the company pays double indemnity.

If this sounds familiar, here’s why: it’s the stage version of James M. Cain’s novella “Double Indemnity,” already extended through Sept. 1 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.

Adapted by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, this version is closer to the book than to the classic noir film, with more twists and a stunningly theatrical ending.

Director John Gould Rubin plays this dark story for laughs as well as gasps by allowing Desai to overplay Phyllis’ well-known seductiveness while Huff falls helplessly into the trap.

Watching these two moral midgets work out their nefarious plan is riveting, especially the meticulousness with which the insurance agent goes about setting it up.

But the deliciously perverse plot isn’t the only reason to see this production. The decision to put this in the round at the White necessitates some of the most ingenious stagecraft seen in a long time.

To keep the action in one continuous sequence, Christopher Barreca has designed four scrims that can be raised and lowered to change time of day and place. They also serve as backdrops for projections of the ocean and (in these anti-smoking times) cigarette smoke. An onstage turntable allows actors to change the scene simply by moving.

Hayden’s Huff (who acts as both narrator and victim) is perfect: smart but not too smart, devious but no match for the lady in question.

Desai is terrific as the real brains – or is Phyllis just a crazed serial killer? Either way, you can’t take your eyes off her.

Megan Ketch is excellent as Phyllis’ 19-year-old stepdaughter Lola, who along with boyfriend Nino Sachetti (the equally fine Vayu O’Donnell) provide the subplot.

O’Donnell also provides good turns in two other small parts, as does Guyer as insurance CEO Keyes.

“Double Indemnity” is one of those guilty pleasures about people you can’t like but also can’t help but watch.

The details

“Double Indemnity” plays through Sept. 1 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.