Theatreworks gives us new perspectives on art DOUBLE INDEMNITY: A THRILLER ON EVERY LEVEL

Theatreworks presents……
Lee Hall
Directed by Leslie Martinson
It is through art and through art only,
That we can realize our perfection.
Oscar Wilde

“I have a passion for plays about art,” said Theatreworks Artistic Director Robert Kelley. “They are inevitably about much more – about the flawed, fragile, familiar human beings behind every aesthetic endeavor and often about the politics and prejudices of the era that produced it.”

That sums up the beauty and the impact of this wonderfully produced story of a group of British coal miners in the thirties who take up painting in an effort to understand ”art.” Andrea Bechert’s creative and highly original set designs coupled with Leslie Martinson’s tightly paced direction elevate the fairly loose plot into a compelling story meant to spur us all to find our own creative muse. “The joy of this play ….. is that it gives us a vibrant ‘insider’s view’… we all are visitors to their community,” said director Leslie Martinson. “When Robert Lyon, their teacher, urged them to pick up brushes and create their own paintings, his goal was simply to give them a means to understand what they were looking at when they looked at a painting. …..What he wasn’t expecting…is the energy and complexity of the images they created.”

The men were fascinated by the creative process and each man found something in it that gave him new perspectives on his own life. “We paint those little moments of being alive,” said Harry Wilson (Dan Hiatt).

Lee Hall was fascinated by the true story of these men and he says, ”I think more than the pitmen wanting to become artists, I was attracted to the idea of a group discovering and discussing art.”

The miners painted together once a week and eventually put on several successful shows of their work. When collector Helen Sutherland (Marcia Pizzo) tries to explain her fascination with the men’s work, she says “The meaning is something that happens in your heart.” And Oliver Kilbourn (Patrick Jones) says “Art is making things possible that weren’t there before. It is the first time I made something that was mine and not for money or for anyone else.”

The work these men produce is not the polished paintings of artists who have studied the creative process and devoted their lives to perfecting their technique. Instead, the works the pitmen produce are unique to each one, reflecting who they are and what is in their hearts. Their teacher Robert Lyon (Paul Whitworth) observes, “Don’t mistake technique for quality. Art is about knowing yourself.” And he tells Oliver, “Go out and paint something new.”

The cast in this ensemble production is outstanding and it would be difficult to single out any one as better than the others. The beauty of the presentation is that they all work together to create a mesmerizing treatise on the importance of unleashing each person’s creative spirit and letting it grow at in its own way. “Why do we assume that art is the province of the educated and elite?” asks Lyons. “You can’t have a rich culture if half the world is disenfranchised.”

THE PITMAN PAINTERS continues through February 12 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street in Mountain View. For information and to order tickets call (650) 463 1960 or visit

Paintings have a life of their own
That derives from the painter's soul.
Vincent Van Gogh


San Jose Rep presents…….
By James Cain
Adapted by David Pichette & R. Hamilton Wright
Directed by Kurt Beattie

DOUBLE INDEMNITY, now playing at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, is based on a 1936 serialized novella by James M. Cain, in which a woman and her lover conspire to murder her husband for the insurance money. In 1944, the year after the story was published in a collection by Cain, Billy Wilder made it into a very famous movie starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson; Raymond Chandler shared the writing credit with Wilder. The movie rather than the novel has lasted in the public consciousness. DOUBLE INDEMNITY was not made into a stage play until David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright adapted it last year for Seattle’s ACT (A Contemporary Theatre); the current San Jose run is a co-production with Seattle.

Pichette and Hamilton based their adaptation on the novella rather than the movie. The result is a spare, stylized work that communicates the spirit of noir better than any recreation of the movie could have done. It comes to the stage as a taut, streamlined chamber piece (five actors play ten roles, compared to 30 credited roles in the screenplay), deliberately simple on the surface but much deeper than it looks at first. Hamilton said that DOUBLE INDEMNITY
reads as if Dostoyevsky “decided to write a leaner, meaner little book in English.”

Director Kurt Beattie has kept this concept clearly in mind, and the result is a tight and compelling evening of noir entertainment. The audience is kept continually involved, even though everyone knows the story cannot end well. As the apparently perfect crime first evolves and then unravels, we identify with the very flawed, indeed wicked, characters – this is the mark of noir, which approaches a mystery from the viewpoint of the participants rather than that of an outside detective. Rooting for murderers is a walk on the wild side for us, a thrill that is part of the excitement of the genre.

Beattie (and Cain) are helped by a cast that is always competent and sometimes outstanding. John Boger has many excellent as the insurance salesman drawn into Carrie Paff’s murderous plot. It is sometimes deliberately ambiguous just whose plot this is. Boger’s intentionally subdued affect is part of the style, and strangely helps rather than inhibits his communication of unspoken passion. Richard Ziman is terrific as the doomed husband, and extra-terrific as the insurance man who tries to solve the crime. Mark Anderson Phillips takes three small roles and makes something memorable out of each of them.

Double Indemnity is effectively staged. Thomas Lynch’s set provides many startling and ingenious effects while staying within the production’s minimalist tone. Its details, and Annie Smart’s costumes, help keep the action believably in its period, as does a modest amount of actual smoking, without which noir is barely gris.

Cain wrote, in the preface to his novel The Butterfly (1947), “I think my stories have some quality of the opening of a forbidden box, and that it is this, rather than violence, sex, or any of the things usually cited by way of explanation, that gives them the drive so often noted.” This is certainly true of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and the San Jose Rep makes opening that box very pleasurable indeed.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY plays at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, through February 5. Evening performances are at 7:30 on Tuesday and Wednesday and 8:00 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; matinees at are 11:00 AM (on Wednesday January 25th only), 3:00 on Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. Tickets can be ordered from the theatre’s website at Discounts are available for students, teachers and seniors.