PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Big Knife—Odets, Poor Debts

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17 Apr 2013


"He did hate Hollywood, but I think he used Hollywood to work out some things that he struggled with personally and struggled with as a citizen of our country."

The instigator of this project appears to be Bobby Cannavale, who stars as Castle. It's been on his to-do list for 16 years. "That's when I saw it at Williamstown," he said. "That's when I met Richard Kind, and we have been friends ever since.

"Joanne Woodward directed it, and I just couldn't move out of my seat when the show was over. It was very clever in that it was sort of a genre piece. I felt like I was watching a film noir—but these huge ideas sorta snuck into it, and these were ideas that really resonated with me. I was struck by the themes of the play. I had already been a fan of the fervent years and the idea of The Group Theatre—a time in this country before the war when that great president, FDR, rallied the troops and got people to come together and created all those great arts projects."

It helped, of course, that Charlie Castle was originated by an idol of Cannavale's. "Yeah, I'm a fan of Garfield's," he admitted. "I would have liked to have met him. He lived on the Upper West Side, in my neighborhood. He lived right down the block from me. He died too young. You know who lives in his building? Stephen Adly Guirgis lives in the building that John Garfield lived in. He lives right under him."

Guirgis wrote the play that got Cannavale a Tony nomination, The Motherf**ker With the Hat, so that fact strengthens his connection to John Garfield.

In the past 16 years, Cannavale would mention The Big Knife from time to time to various directors, and eventually he finally struck genuine interest. "About seven years ago, I did a play with Bobby—Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck—and we talked about doing it," Hughes recalled. "Now we're finally getting around to it. I've known the play about 20 years, but I never saw that production in Williamstown where Richard was supposed to be so great. I've always wanted to work with him, though. About a year ago he did a reading of it—I had cut the play down and did more work on it, with the approval of Walt Odets, Odets' son—and Richard read it superbly."


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