REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Big Knife


By Clifford Odetsraven theatre

Directed  by Michael Menendian

At Raven Theatre

Clifford Odets’ scathing attack on the hypocrisy a tad dated.

It is nice to see a play by an outstanding playwright that is seldom produced.  Clifford Odets’ The Big Knife is a 1949 play and a 1955 film that was Odets’ attack on the shenanigans that pervaded Hollywood in the days of the studio produced films centered on contract players.

raven theatre

We meet Charlie Castle (Jason Huysman), a former idealistic theatre actor who became a top movie star doing B movies for a major film studio. Castle hates doing fluff films since he still wants to be an artist but his love for money and the affluent life overwhelms him. His often estranged wife, Marion (Liz Fletcher) want s Charlie to leave Hollywood and return to New York theatre. Charles is torn between the money in Hollywood and the love of his wife. But the hold Marcus Hoff (Chuck Spencer), the studio boss will do anything necessary to get Castle to sign a 14 year $3,75 million dollar contract. Hoff is a tough guy and  who usually gets his way.

raven theatre

The play features a group of agents, handlers, friends with a few seducers all bent on influencing Castle. Much of the play is a character sketch of Charlie Castle. We see that he is a weakling, a womanizer, and a drunk. We try to empathize with him but he makes it hard since he is actually as much of a hypocrite as the studio executives. Once we learn Charles’ secret, we lose even more empathy for him since he is a guilt-ridden loser.

Odets’ demonstrates the lengths that the studio will resort to in order to protect their cash-cow property in Charles Castle . Intimidation, blackmail, bribery,and possibly murder are in the arsenal of the film studio functionaries. Jason Huysman, as Castle, and Chuck Spencer, as the commanding studio chief led the fine cast through Odets’ melodramatic work. While the set design (by Ray Toler) was lavishly 40’s Hollywood, the script was not one of Clifford Odets’ best. The Raven Theatre is well pace and effectively acted making it a worthy curiosity by one of the finest playwrights of the 20th Century.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: September 22, 2012

For more info checkout The Big Knife page at

At Reven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177,, tickets $36, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions, through November 11, 2012

Leave a Reply