Noir fiction thrives in its hardboiled lyricism, in language as blunt as the nose of a revolver. Noir film is a realm of shadows and light, of bursts of sound and inscrutable danger. Noir theater? Well, that's—hmm.
The Old Globe is taking a stab at it with its theatrical production of James M. Cain's Double Indemnity, a novel published in 1943 that became a classic film a year later, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. A stage adaptation by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, which premiered nearly two years ago in Seattle, is very much true to Cain's literary rhythm and attitude. Moreover, on the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage, the Globe's Christopher Barreca and Stephen Strawbridge team up on a design-and-lighting scheme, with projections by Keith Skretch, that comes close to giving the play the desired film-noir motif. Invoking 1940s Los Angeles on a small stage—from the Long Beach oil fields to Hollywood and Vine—is no snap, but, by and large, the Globe production directed by John Gould Rubin manages the logistics.
Yet even with Cain's anti-heroic characters and the sharp-dressed cast portraying them (in period costumes by David Israel Reynoso), the production doesn't rise to the level of hardcore noir. It's suspenseful, sometimes funny and other times spooky, but it does not fully inhabit the genre.
It's true that for all its brilliance, the beloved Wilder film's figures smack of caricature, but then pop historians have made film noir a cultural stereotype. The Globe cast, in the story of a duplicitous (and worse) woman who, with the help of a morally bankrupt insurance salesman, murders her husband, does avoid affectation. In fact, Angel Desai, as aspiring black widow Phyllis Nirlinger, is sexiness personified and is able to convey both desperation and deceit. Michael Hayden is her more calculating, and human, counterpart as insurance man Walter Huff, who, by the end of the play, actually elicits a degree of sympathy. Murphy Guyer doubles as the targeted husband and as Huff's boss, and his performance is the most grounded among the ensemble of five, which also includes Megan Ketch and Vayu O'Donnell.
Double Indemnity runs through Sept. 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
The 39 Steps: A comedic, four-actor stage version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, as if performed by Monty Python, with lots of allusions to other Hitchcock classics. Opens Aug. 9 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Macbeth & The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Local teens perform one-hour versions of the two Shakespeare plays. Happens on Monday, Aug. 12, at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The Spaceman of Ocean Beach: A staged reading of a play by Rick Bollinger about an eccentric character, Clint Cary, who made Ocean Beach his home from the 1960s until his death in 1993. Runs Aug. 9 and 10 at the Ocean Beach Playhouse. facebook.com/spacemanofoceanbeach
Thoroughly Modern Millie: A Kansas girl flees to New York City in the 1920s and foils an export-slavery ring. Presented by Pickwick Players, it runs Aug. 9 through 17 at C3 Performing Arts Center in Grantville. pickwickplayers.net
It's Just Sex : Three couples get together for some drinks, and, wouldn't you know it, the inevitable spouse swapping ensues. Through Aug. 10 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
The Wizard of Oz : A Kansas girl's blunt-force head trauma sends her to a colorful land where men are made of straw and tin, lions dance and monkeys fly. Through Aug. 10 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Visa. moonlightstage.com
Freedom of Speech : Eliza Jane Schneider plays 34 characters in her own one-woman show, which chronicles her travels around the United States in an old ambulance. Presented by Moxie Theatre, it runs through Aug. 11 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. moxietheatre.com
The Rainmaker : A conman arrives at a Depression-era ranch where the cattle are dying and the farmer's daughter's hopes of finding a husband are fading. Through Aug. 11 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Musical : It's Shakespeare's classic comedy in the forest, but with pop music from the 1960s. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through Aug. 18 at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com
You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! : The nationally touring stage version of a 2010 book by comedians Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn about their real-life marriage and family. Through Aug. 18 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Company : A musical organized around a series of vignettes that explore the relationships between an unmarried 35-year-old man and his 10 coupled-off friends. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs though Aug. 25 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
In the Heights : A musical about working-class folks trying to get ahead in a Dominican-American neighborhood in New York City. Through Aug. 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Sideways : Two middle-aged guys, one who's about to be married, head to Santa Barbara wine country and find trouble. Through Aug. 25 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Double Indemnity : In a theatrical version of the 1943 noir novel and 1944 film, an insurance man falls for a sexy dame who wants her husband dead. Through Sept. 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The Good, the Bad, and the I-5 : Legendary sketch-comedy gang Second City stages a show for and about San Diego—plenty of rich material here lately, eh? Through Sept. 1 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Suds: The Musical : The story of a young woman looking for love in a Laundromat frames a soundtrack of '60s hits. Through Sept. 1 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead : Tom Stoppard's existentialist play turns two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet into lead characters. Through Sept. 26 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
The Merchant of Venice : Shakespeare's play, about a man who borrows money to court a woman, gave us the terms "shylock" and "a pound of flesh." Through Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
A Midsummer Night's Dream : A Greek forest is alive with fairies, magic potions and the pursuit of love in the opener of The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
miXtape : Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net