Oscar E Moore

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THE BIG KNIFE – with Bobby Cannavale needs sharpening and style

April 26th, 2013 by Oscar E Moore



What’s most missing in this Hollywood artifact dug up by the Roundabout Theatre Company – not seen here for sixty years?  A biting edge and that most important word – STYLE. 

It’s a rather unimpressive and dull production directed by Doug Hughes of THE BIG KNIFE on view at the American Airlines Theatre, Clifford Odets’ melodramatic expose of the old Hollywood Studio System, fame and fortune and cover-ups.

Billy Wilder got it right in Sunset Boulevard.  This is Wilder without the satire or the bite or the fun needed to fully satisfy all those faces out there in the dark.

This is film noir that’s about as noir as the light bulbs that illuminate the excellent set by John Lee Beatty where the action takes place.  It’s the “playroom” of Charlie Castle (a pontificating Bobby Cannavale) – where deals are made and broken as well as hearts, where cigarettes and booze are rampant, where seductions are played out and murder plots hatched in this plush ultra modern Beverly Hills home circa 1948.

A home very much in vogue again.  Not so the script.

Get yourself famous.  Get yourself in trouble.  You eventually pay for it.  In spades.  Charlie Castle is a huge star who has the look of Errol Flynn and the sound of a cross between Bogart and Tony Danza – a piece of property owned by the Studio headed by that megalomaniac Marcus Huff (Richard Kind) who brings in lots of money both for himself and the shareholders.  But hot shot, womanizer Charlie is having second thoughts and is mulling over his new contract that would tie him up for another fourteen years and he might not sign.

 His wife Marion (a much too contemporary Marin Ireland) will leave him, once again, if he does sign.  His agent Nat Danziger (Chip Zien) strongly advises him to not make waves.  The Studio boss and his cohort Smiley Coy (Reg Rogers) will do everything in their power – including blackmail and murder to keep their star before the camera.  Richard Kind plays this shark that sheds crocodile tears on cue to the hilt.

Buddy Bliss (Joey Slotnick) had taken the blame in the past for a tragic accident that Charlie was involved in – covered up by the Studio.  His wife Connie (Ana Reeder) puts the make on Charlie.  He in turn puts the make on starlet Dixie Evans (Rachel Brosnahan) and screen writer Hank Teagle (C.J. Wilson) is waiting in the wings to whisk Charlie’s wife away after the maybe yes maybe no divorce.

A rumor that Hollywood gossipmonger Patty Benedict (a wonderful Brenda Wehle) tries to sniff out during the opening moments of the play looking and acting the part in the style that is missing in the other performances.  Too bad.



One highlight however is in the dark – as the scene changes we hear dialogue from one of Charlie’s hit movies that is the real thing and right on target.

Period costumes by Catherine Zuber also sometimes miss the mark.  But I do love the character’s names that Clifford Odets came up with as well as the opening voice over concerning cell phones and hard candies.  But THE BIG KNIFE was a letdown leaving me hungry for the 1955 film version and a big bag of popcorn.  Through June 2nd.

www.roundabouttheatre.org  Photos:  Joan Marcus

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