Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“The Big Knife”

Recommended***Raven Theatre has been entertaining Chicago theater audiences for 29 years and as they go into their 30th season, dedicated to breathing “new life” into American Classics, they are presenting “The Big Knife”, Clifford Odets’ in-depth look at how lives can be shattered by the secrets we keep. In this rather long story ( two plus hours, three acts with 2 intermissions), we visit the Hollywood home of Charlie Castle (  a strong performance by Jason Huysman). Charlie, a major star with a large studio is faced with several choices; one to resign with the studio for a long term or to walk away and save his marriage.  Marion ( Liz Fletcher) wants Charlie to leave Hollywood, go back to New York with their son and start over, perhaps on the stage. Charlie, although he wants to save his marriage, has a deeper problem. Seems, there was an accident that resulted in a young child being killed. While the world thinks the accident was Charlies public relations man, Buddy ( Mike Boone), we continue to learn more details about what really happened on that fateful evening.

Slowly, as the story unfolds ( very slowly) and over a lot of alcohol consumption, we find that there is blackmail involved by the studio head, Marcus Hoff ( deftly handled by Chuck Spencer, as always) and his right hand man, Smiley Coy ( Greg Caldwell) who is something other than he first appears to be. Charlie is estranged from Marion because of this and his womanizing ways. During the three acts, we learn that there was a woman involved that night, a young aspiring actress, Dixie ( a charming Jennifer Dymit, who tends to speak to fast causing us to miss some of the important words that Odets brings to this jig-saw puzzle story) and as it turns out, Buddy’s wife Connie ( played by the very sultry Jen Short). There are still two more characters in the puzzle. Ron Quade as nat Danziger, Charlie’s agent and Hank Teagle ( Ian Novak), a writer who would give anything to take Marion away from Charlie and begin a new life.

As you can see, this is a puzzle of people and actions involving the incident that has changed the lives of each of these characters. Oh yes, there is yet one more character, one that appears in the very first scene, a gossip columnist ,Patty Benedict ( JoAnn Montemurro) who is only there to open the door to the subject of the accident. I would think that this theater company ,under the slick direction of Michael Menendian, could have found a few spots to trim and still keep the story alive and the action better contained for the audience. The set by Ray Toler is extraordinary for one of the larger storefront theaters ( the building at Granville and Clark Street, used to be a grocery store) and Ms Montemurro’s costumes are very fitting of the times. Mary O’Dowd’s props and set dressings complete the picture of this “movie star” and the lighting (Kurt Ottinger) and sound ( Melissa Schlesinger) completes the picture.

This is a story filled with destruction of people through “blackmail” and fear. The personalities of each of the characters, with the exception of the gossip columnist are all affected by what happened on that night and while we begin to see Charlie realize that what is happening is not right, we find out that it is far to late. The ending is one that will surprise you ( or will it?), as many of those in tonight’s audience were. Due to the number of other openings, I had to postpone getting to this one which is only playing through November 11th, so for those who like a good Hollywood “soap”, or just love Odets, you only have until the 11th with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are only $36 (students and seniors, save $5) and can be purchased by calling 773-338-2177 or online at www.raventheatre.com

There is free parking at 6157 N. Clark Street and easy to get to by bus.

To see what others say, go to my home page, link on to theatre in Chicago and then go to review round-up and click on “The Big Knife”

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