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The Big Knife

Road Less Traveled presented one of the most high-profile fundraising events our local theater has seen for a long time last week when they presented Alec Baldwin and a local cast in a reading of Clifford Odets’ tale of greed and intrigue in old Hollywood, The Big Knife.

Under the direction of Scott Behrend, the local actors acquitted themselves impressively alongside the Hollywood and Broadway star who headlined.

Indeed, while Baldwin gave a notably low-key performance, the script afforded some of Buffalo’s very best actors the opportunity to gnaw into some delicious character work. I was especially impressed by Matt Witten as Buddy Bliss, friend and publicist to a star with a secret, played by Baldwin. Witten gave contour and complexity to a man who is unhappy in his marriage and victim to an abusive Hollywood system.

Lisa Vitrano, too, gave a powerful and entirely consistent performance as Marion Castle, wife of the star—an impressive feat with so little rehearsal time and so little time with the star himself. Kristen Tripp Kelley—always delightful—made a vivid impression in the opening scene as a vitriolic gossip columnist with a cutthroat agenda. Similarly, Cassie Gornewiecz hit the ground running as aspiring actress Dixie Evans, a woman not fated for success—a role played by a young Shelly Winters on film.

In addition to those mentioned, Brian Mysliwy played Hollywood mogul Marcus Hoff; Brendan Powers played studio goon Smiley Coy; Gerry Maher played Nat Danzinger; Kelly Jakiel played slutty Connie Bliss; Dave Hayes played Hank Teagle; and Barry Williams played Russell the servicable butler.

The script is long and long-winded, but superior character work by local actors kept our interest. At times the amplified voices sounded like an old-time radio broadcast, which added to my enjoyment.