Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Big Knife **

After the success of the recent revivals of "Awake and Sing!" and "Golden Boy," it must have seemed like a good idea for Roundabout Theatre to revive another Clifford Odets play. Unfortunately, it wasn't -- at least not this minor work set in Hollywood in 1948. Charlie Castle (Bobby Cannavale) is a disillusioned leading man whom  studio head Marcus Hoff (Richard Kind) is determined to get to sign a 12-year contract by whatever means necessary. Charlie's idealistic wife Marion (Marin Ireland) threatens to divorce him if he signs. Their screenwriter friend Hank Teagle (C.J. Wilson), who is going back to New York to write a novel about Tinseltown, hopes Marion will leave Charlie and come with him. We also meet Buddy Bliss (Joey Slotnick), the PR man who took the rap and served time for an auto accident that Charlie was responsible for, his unsatisfied wife Connie (Ana Reeder) who has slept with Charlie occasionally, Dixie Evans (Rachel Brosnahan), the ingenue who was in the car with Charlie when the accident occurred and whose silence the studio has bought, the aptly named Smiley Coy (Reg Rogers), Hoff's right-hand man, Charlie's agent Nat Danziger (Chip Zien), gossip columnist Patty Benedict (Brenda Wehle) and the butler Russell (Billy Eugene Jones). While I have much admired Cannavale and Ireland on other occasions, I found them inadequate here. In their defense, their roles are less interesting than the supporting characters, up to and including the butler. The play springs briefly to life in the final scene, but by then it is far too late to care. The dialog is overwrought, the characters are underwritten and the production is undercooked, all adding up to a long tedious evening. Doug Hughes' direction shows no improvement over the mess he made out of "Enemy of the People" last year. On the plus side, John Lee Beatty's set design is superb and Catherine Zuber's costumes are wonderful. If the trite plot really interests you, you can save a lot of money by renting the film version with such Hollywood luminaries as Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, Ilka Chase and Everett Sloane. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes, including intermission.

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