The Big Knife is the second Clifford Odets’ play to staged by the Roundabout Theater Company this year. Someone at the Roundabout deserves a raise. Having seen many of Odet’s works on the screen, I would not have expected the emotions that arise from these works. On film, both Golden Boy and The Big Knife seem overly melodramatic and turgid; but on as staged by the Roundabout, they sing. The Big Knife is a tight drama of a man who has achieved stardom at the cost of his freedom. What would you do, and who would you indebt yourself to, in order to reach your goals.
|Chip Zien, Bobby Cannavale, Richard King and Reg Rogers in The Big Knife|
Bobby Cannavale plays Charlie Castle, film star who is stuck in unfulfilling, but commercially successful, roles. Set in the waning days of the studio system, Charlie Castle is locked into a deal with Studio Boss Marcus Hoff, a dazzling turn by Richard Kind. Charlie Castle is being pressured by the studio and his agent to sign another long term, exclusive contract, and he is being pressured by his estranged wife to quit the movie industry.
|Marin Ireland & Bobby Cannavale|
Charlie has less leverage than a star would normally have, because the studio is covering up a criminal matter for him (minor spoiler). At the same time the studio is turning the screws on Charlie, his wife is promising reconciliation if they get back together and a previous indiscretion is threating to go to the press. Charlie is stretched thin.
Mr. Cannavale does a wonderful job playing a man who has everything, but is in control of nothing. He even laughs at the predicament of a movie hero, who can’t escape his own contract. Marin Ireland, as his wife, is a perfect counterweight for Charlie Castle. She is resolved to leave Charlie and this life behind. But the love and connection between them breaks down her best intentions when they are together. Ms. Ireland plays the role well, being almost as tough as she needs to be. Mrs. Castle is a great partner, and Ms. Ireland is remarkable in the role, bring her to life in a realistic manner.
The wonderful Reg Rogers plays the studio boss’ sidekick, with a eye towards making the fewest waves possible.
It is the interaction of Mr. Cannavale and Mr. Kind that electrifies The Big Knife. Both are playing against type, Mr. Kind as a rough edged type A asshole and Mr. Cannavale more impotent than we ever see him. The stage sizzles when they share it.
Director Doug Hughes lets The Big Knife show its age, there is no attempt to bring it into the moment because its message is still relevant. Mr. Odets’ words and phrasing are integral to the proceedings, and Mr. Hughes manages his cast well in inhabiting this world. The sets by John Lee Beatty and costumes by Catherine Zuber are gorgeous, contributing to the totality of the experience. I highly recommend it.
The Big Knife
Playwright: Clifford Odets
Director: Doug Hughes
Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Bobby Cannavale, Marin Ireland, Billy Eugene Jones, Richard Kind, Ana Reeder, Reg Rogers, Joey Slotnick, Brenda Wehle, C.J. Wilson, Chip Zien