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Theater Review: 'The Big Knife' -- 1 star

Marin Ireland, left, and Bobby Cannavale in a

Marin Ireland, left, and Bobby Cannavale in a scene from “The Big Knife” Credit: Marin Ireland, left, and Bobby Cannavale in a scene from “The Big Knife”

The Big Knife
1 star

There’s no denying that the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Clifford Odets’ rarely seen 1949 drama “The Big Knife” is misconceived and altogether embarrassing.

But the real question is whether the blame should be placed primarily on Odets, as this is one of his worst plays; the Roundabout, for its inexplicable decision to revive it; or director Doug Hughes, for failing to find the proper style of an old-fashioned melodrama.

Although Odets was one of the great American playwrights of the 20th century, his greatest works were written in the 1930s.

After his initial success, Odets worked primarily as a Hollywood screenwriter, producing mainly hack work except for “The Sweet Smell of Success.” His later plays, from the ’40s and ’50s, such as “The Country Girl” and “The Big Knife,” replace the political urgency and individual yearning of his earlier successes with wallowing self-pity.

“The Big Knife” observes Charlie Castle (Bobby Cannavale), an A-list actor frustrated by the assembly line quality of his B-level action flicks and concerned about marital difficulties with his unsatisfied wife (Marin Ireland) who attempts to not renew his contract with a big studio, which inevitably leads to blackmail, betrayal and tragedy.

Cannavale and Ireland are both raw, very compelling actors who have achieved considerable success in contemporary plays, but they are completely at sea under Hughes’ clueless direction.


“The Big Knife” plays at the American Airlines Theatre through June 2. 227 W. 42nd St., 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org.

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