Possessing the cracking dialogue but largely missing the moody atmospherics of great noir, ACT Theatre’s production of Double Indemnity is occasionally thrilling but frustratingly ho-hum almost as often. This new adaptation of James M. Cain’s crime novel by Seattle theater fixtures David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright nails the off-kilter cadences but isn’t matched by the staging, despite an impressive rotating set by Thomas Lynch.
What the show could have been is hinted at in its final scene, a delirious expressionist moment highlighted by garish lighting and fever-dream aesthetics. One wishes the production would’ve wallowed in a bit more stylistic pulp or convention-rattling staging, like the ingenious vertical hospital bed that features prominently in the show’s second act.
Still, Pichette and Wright’s interpretation of Cain’s plotting ensures the show remains engaging on a narrative level at least. The twists and turns of the tale of an insurance salesman who falls under the spell of his client’s wife and agrees to help her pull off a murder/insurance fraud scheme is juicy stuff. No matter if you know how it ends—and if you’ve only seen Billy Wilder’s superb film version, you don’t—it’s a story that digs its hooks in early.
John Bogar’s portrayal of insurance salesman Walter Huff sells the character’s fundamental weak-willed smarminess but there’s barely a flicker of the raging lust within that drives him to murder. Perhaps more problematic in the romantic equation is Carrie Paff as Phyllis Nirlinger, who looks every inch the icy femme fatale, but whose stilted manner stunted the seduction at Thursday’s opening night performance. There was more hard-boiled gusto to be found in Richard Ziman’s insurance boss, Keyes, who’s determined to root out the truth behind the sketchy insurance claim.
Still, this Double Indemnity possesses enough spark to be worth a ticket purchase thanks to the murky brilliance of its source material. It runs through Nov. 20 at ACT Theatre. Tickets are available for purchase online.