This past weekend saw the opening of Double Indemnity at the Repertory Theatre of St Louis and As You Like It at St Louis Shakespeare. These are very different plays but, in watching both, I was taken by the roles of women through the ages and what that represents, then and now.
Double Indemnity is stylish and fun. Scenic designer Paul Shortt and director Michael Evan Haney may have gone through 30 models before settling on the scene design, but they obviously chose the right feel for this show. The theater is misty and mysterious as you enter, with strong illumination slanting down from the grilled windows. Once the show starts, every scene has angled lights shining in through the blinds, film noir perfection. David Kay Michelsen’s costumes were opulent and sexy in shades of gray with only one spot of color. Director Haney kept the long one-act moving briskly.
The technical aspects of As You Like It were more constrained and budget conscious, but I found Christie Johnston’s trees to be my favorite part. They were light and ethereal and provided wonderful moodiness as they changed colors in the lights. Beth Ashby’s costumes were in a lovely warm palette and I always enjoy the fact that people in Shakespeare’s time just couldn’t tell a girl from a boy once she puts on pants. There’s a line in the synopsis that states, “It all becomes very complicated.” It does. But director Brian A. Peters’ storytelling made the intricate plot clear.
Gardner Reed plays the role of Phyllis Nirlinger in Double Indemnity. She is young, flighty, obsessed with the idea of death and maybe even a bit crazy, but I didn’t get evil from her. Art Silverblatt’s “reflections” in the program indicate the emphasis of the story is the evil side of human nature but I definitely saw more crazy and greedy than evil. David Christopher Wells’ Walter Huff didn’t seem particularly malicious, either. Inured to the evil men do because of his work as a private investigator, apparently Huff has been waiting to fulfill a long conceived plot and Phyllis is appropriately pliable and pretty. I could talk at length about the plot point by which two strangers meet and are immediately smitten, so much so that they throw away everyone and everything else in their lives to be together, but we are obsessed with “love at first sight.”
I am endlessly fascinated by when art leads culture and when it simply reflects culture. Of course, the average woman who lives a quiet life of family and community probably doesn’t spark much material for a playwright so you get women like Phyllis Nirlinger, the dame, the doll, the skirt. A “good” woman could reform a guy like Huff, a bad woman will take him down with her. I was interested to see in the program notes that this story took quite a while to come to film. I wonder was the censorship for the killing, or the marital infidelity?
In Shakespeare’s time women had even more constraints upon them. Cousins Rosalind and Celia (Betsy Bowman and Maggie Murphy) can’t possibly run away as two women, so Rosalind dons some breeches and suddenly, they are brother and sister. Even though Bowman’s Rosalind is a wee thing with dewy eyes and blushing cheek, those pants make all the difference. But in this play too, we see the idea of being smitten and falling in love in an instance. I like that Shakespeare’s gals are gutsy though, and Bowman and Murphy are energetic as well.
Not to leave the men behind, in Double Indemnity, Wells’ Huff is appropriately steely-eyed and looks to be having a wonderful time. His flat, deadpan delivery is sometimes a bit too flat, but most of the time it’s dead-on. The guy who steals the scene in every entrance though, is Michael Sean McGuinness playing Keyes, the “Rain Man” of insurance salesmen with his extra-intuitive perception. In As You Like It, Aaron Dodd did some nice work as Orlando as did Andrew Weber in two roles, Lebeau and William. Overall I found the acting in As You Like It a bit broad but the energy is good, the words and story are clear.
Double Indemnity continues at the Loretto Hilton through April 7th. As You Like It plays in the Thomas Hunter Theatre at DeSmet High School through March 24th.
Elsewhere in town the Rep is taking their patrons through the process of playwriting with their Ignite! Series; the last reading will be this Saturday at 3pm in the rehearsal studio at Opera Theatre.