Odets's language, like his story, is ornately branched but always on target: His characters play for big stakes, with big, brightly colored phrases to match. Part of the fun is the running unspoken dialogue that Odets carries on with movieland's production code censors. The play contains nearly everything American films weren't allowed to show: unpunished adultery, unpunished murder, abortion, suicide. With efficient ingenuity, Odets makes the perpetrators feel guilty as hell about almost all of it, supplying clues for the tailoring that would make even this anti-Hollywood work purchasable by the studios.

A family affair at MTC
Joan Marcus
A family affair at MTC


The Assembled Parties
by Richard Greenberg
MTC/Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
212-581-1212, theassembledpartiesbroadway.com

The Big Knife
by Clifford Odets
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
212-239-6200, roundabouttheater.org

On The Big Knife's way back to Broadway, however, it apparently collided with some new mode of censoriousness. Doug Hughes's production pushes for a muted, muttered realism that squeezes Odets's garishly tropical diction into bland, pasty mush. The intimate tone promotes frequent inaudibility; even the normally superb Brenda Wehle spreads a weirdly inapposite glumness as a sharp-fanged gossip columnist. Cannavale, usually an exhilarating presence, seems glum too, vocally and emotionally hemmed in; he and Ireland strike no sparks off each other. Only when Kind ramps up his ranting, goading Chip Zien, as Castle's loyal agent, into furious response, do we get the wild clangor of Odets in full cry, a brash, percussive music that should have resounded all through.

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