‘Double Indemnity’ at Round House Theatre by Eric Denver

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I was honored to be in the audience last night to catch this last production under the stewardship of Artistic Director Blake Robison. What a way to complete his seven year tenure as Producing Artistic Director with this gripping noir and powerful evening of theatre. Originally written by James M. Cain in 1935, Round House Theatre’s Double Indemnity was adapted for the stage by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright. It’s set in 1936 in California, and is based on the 1944 movie about an actual 1927 Queens, New York murder.

Marty Lodge as Huff. Photo by Danisha Crosby.

There are so many twists and turns in Double Indemnity that it may remind you of your last roller coaster ride at the amusement park. Five talented actors – six if you count the dead body – play 11 different roles in 28 different scenes. With that in mind, you can imagine what the audience encounters as they simultaneously play the roles of witness, judge, and jury.

Huff (Marty Lodge), an insurance salesman visits one of his rich clients to discuss his auto insurance policy. Phyllis (Celeste Ciulla), his wife, is the only one at home and a conversation ensues about the benefits of changing from her husband’s present policy to include some recommended revisions. During the course of the conversation, the wife innocently inquires about the possibility of buying a life insurance policy for her husband since he owns an oil production company, which she considers a dangerous occupation. Huff interprets the life insurance question as an ingenious attempt by the wife to kill her husband and collect on the policy. As Double Indemnity weaves through its two hours of complications and twists and surprises, you appreciate the genius of both the plot and the passionate performances as the cast lures you in.

Lodge’s Huff is a difficult role to perform because he is on the stage for almost all the play constantly interacting with the other characters. Having performed over 30 plays at Round House, it’s great to be able to see Marty successfully convincing the audience of his changing intentions, and this is effectively accomplished by his communicating directly with the audience in advancing the plot, and keeping their attention. Lodge’s multi-layered performance is a tour de force of emotion and vulnerability.

Ciulla (Phyllis Nirlinger) is the manipulating wife of our oil tycoon. She has a critical role in the play, both in convincing the audience of her sincerity and simultaneously being the initiator of the fate of the play’s characters. The play rises and falls on how successfully she can convince the audience of her credibility and Nirlinger grabs the audience and never lets go.

Marty Lodge and Celeste Ciulla. Credit: Photo by Danisha Crosby.

Danny Gavigan, is fantastic in the triple roles of Norton Nino, and Jackson – the chief operating officer of the insurance company, boyfriend, and train witness of the big event. Playing three different characters with three different accents, Gavigan is so convincing that you might believe that these are three different people playing these very different roles. Todd Scofield admirably plays dual roles as Huff’s Insurance Company co-worker and investigator Barton Keyes, as well as Mr. Nirlinger, the prime target of destruction by his wife.

Kudos go to Director Eleanor Holdridge who successfully utilizes the noir approach and smooth pacing to advance the plot – so the audience is focused on every detail of what’s transpiring in front of their eyes.

Scenic and Projection Designer Daniel Conway, Projection Engineer Erik Trester, and Lighting Designer Nancy Schertler together preserve the noir by employing an abundance of black and white in their designs –  in set backgrounds, and projecting it on the changing set background panels as characters make their entrances and exits from different stage directions. Spotlights are utilized during character soliloquies throughout the play as the size and depth of their shadows are magnified on the set’s background. Members of the prop support team also provide “assistance” by incorporating their movements into the play by becoming a coat hanger and dispensing a glass of water – all seamlessly appearing, doing their job, and disappearing during scene changes.

So, what are you waiting for? Run and see Round House Theatre’s Double Indemnity. It’s a powerful ‘Who Done It?” You may even be convinced to change the terms and conditions of your insurance policy.

Running time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission

Double Indemnity plays through June 24, 2012 at Round House Theatre – 4545 East West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (240) 644-1100, or purchase them online.

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