Theater Review - The Big Knife (NY)

“The  Big Knife” is a big production.  The eleven member cast dressed in Catherine Zuber's slinkily expensive clothes has its work cut out for it in the hugely gorgeous Beverly Hills house designed by John Lee Beatty and lit creamily by James F. Ingalls.  Playwright Clifford Odets, who began his career with the Group Theater and died young at age 57 from cancer,  had a tough time in Hollywood, and all his bitterness and cynicism plays out here.  


With his black panda eyes and knowing confidence Bobby Canavale shines as Charlie Castle, the young handsome movie star, a box office success, who is “owned” by Marcus Hoff, the head of a major Hollywood studio.  But Canavale must be on stage in every scene, a heavy burden. The playwright does not really give us much to like about him, until the end. Richard Kind as Hoff expresses so much panache and paternal pain that he has earned an Outer Critics Supporting Actor nomination. It is fascinating and funny to watch as he switches from protector to bully in a split second.  Hoff demands Charlie sign a 14 year contract to continue doing schlock movies. Charlie's wife, Marion, the ever-slim Marin Ireland, will have none of that.  She wants him to move to NY to the theater to do good work.  Charlie has been saved by Hoff and Joey Slotnick's milquetoast Buddy Bliss, who has even gone to jail for Charlie. Seems Charlie was drunk and driving when he killed a little boy.  Dixie Evans, a pretty Rachel Brosnahan, was with him in the car and is blackmailing him. 


No one is without fault, here. Marion, separated from Charlie, has been having an affair with the writer Hank Teagle (C.J. Wilson) and has had an abortion. Charlie's manager, Nat, a part greatly manipulated by Chip Zien, wants him to sign, but also get back together with his wife.  The twist in the plot comes when Hoff's henchman, Smiley Coy, a severe Reg Rogers, suggests that they murder Dixie. It is here that Charlie refuses and shows some moral fiber.  But it is too late. The ending is sad and not really predictable. 


While this is not a perfect play, “The Big Knife” is a part of theater history and Todd Haimes, Artistic Director of Roundabout,  is to be congratulated  for presenting it and for his thirty quality years in the business.   

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