Tuesday, November 08, 2011

theatre notes. Double Indemnity.

I went to see Double Indemnity at ACT the other day, with a friend. I'd never seen the film, or read the book, but I knew what to expect: desire, murder, lies, deceit, double-crossing, set to the staccato snick-snick-snick of a cigarette lighter and the click-click-click of stiletto heels. It would take place in Southern California where the sun shines all day but somehow it always seems to be night. The men wear suits and trench coats and the woman always seems to be wearing a peignoir, even if she is wearing a blouse tucked neatly into a skirt. It must be something about the way she moves. We are in Southern California, in Los Angeles. All the noir stories take place in Southern California, it seems, that hotbed of greed and vice. What else could cast such dark, deep shadows as that brilliant, burning California sunlight? Where else would those doomed creatures, scheming women and greedy men, head except for the far west? Hollywood is a town of illusions, and its smoke and mirrors spreads through all that surrounds it...

It's been a good year at ACT. This is the last play of the mainstage season, with only the classic A Christmas Carol left for the upcoming holidays. It's been a year of gorgeous productions, from the time-shifting rooms of Vanities to the grand fin-de-si├Ęcle Upstate New York doctor's house of In the Next Room. The set for Double Indemnity is fascinating, a bare stage with sliding walls that form a V, like the prow of a ship, everything a murky, mottled blue-green that could be the unforgiving ocean waters or the polished granite of a bank vault. The walls slide apart to reveal different rooms - a living room, an office, a hospital room. A revolving stage within a revolving stage swivels back and forth, bringing in various people and furnishings, - beds and chairs and chaise lounges, even cars. The play is an extended flashback, the scenes swirling on and off-stage, the way memories form themselves in your mind and then slip away.

It is an intricate puzzle, both the set and the story, with two main actors and a supporting cast of three who fill the rest of the roles, which is how things are so often done these days. Kurt Beattie, who directed Double Indemnity and who also happens to be the Artistic Director of ACT explains during the post-play discussion that this is not solely for financial reasons, but I forget his other points. It's fun for the actors, they tell us, and fun for the audience as well, I think. Fun to see Jessica Martin switch from the frumpy secretary to the coltish stepdaughter, clumping along awkwardly in shoes that seem just a little too big or twirling in champagne-sparkled moonlight. At the talk-back she is both incredibly young and startlingly self-possessed, with a calm stillness that is in complete contrast to the energy she brings to the stage. Of the five actors in the play she is the one I've seen the most often - in Rock 'n' Roll some years ago, and in several Pinter Fortnightlys - and it always makes me happy to see a familiar face in my program. There have been a lot of plays this year, and a lot of familiar faces. I'm looking forward to next season, and more familiar faces.

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