Of Hollywood and Politics

Robert Beltran revives 1949's play The Big Knife

By P.E. Davidson
Published on LatinoLA: November 7, 2003

Of Hollywood and Politics

I met with Robert Beltran on a cold day in hell. Well, it actually was a cold day in Los Angeles. According to playwright Clifford Odets? 1949 stage play "The Big Knife" really isn?t all that much of a difference. We met to talk about Beltran?s latest project, which couldn?t be more different from the part he?s probably known for most: Star Trek: Voyager?s Commander Chakotay.

Odets? The Big Knife is about Charlie Castle, a stage actor turned star after moving to Hollywood where he signed up with a studio. He wants to leave the studio because he realizes how the lure of the unimportant films he now stars in has changed him as a person. But something in his past forces him to succumb to the force of the studio boss and the audience witnesses Castle re-evaluate his current position in life.

On the surface, the play may seem to be about Hollywood but Beltran chose it for a more important reason: The Big Knife was written with McCarthy?s politics in mind and Beltran feels the situation back then warrants some comparison to today?s politics.

?[In] The Big Knife,? Beltran explains his choice of play, ?the things it says are the truth; it?s how I see things. Odets foresaw perceptively and intelligently the trend that was happening in the United States after World War II. He saw it firmly taking root and he was perceptive enough a thinker and writer to write something that would resonate for the next 50, now almost 60 years. That?s why it?s still valid, even more so today than back in its time.?

Asides from the political views, Beltran also hopes people will start to realize the importance of theater and thought-provoking entertainment. The actor cherishes theater because of the lessons it holds for anyone willing to open their minds to it. ?The most important thing about theater is that people come together and sit down and watch a piece of art in form of a play. They place that play in their minds as they?re watching it. They forget that they?re in the theater and enter the play in their imagination. They will have been provoked in one way or another to start thinking about what the themes were of the play. That?s the most important thing of theater: to provoke thought.?

Since the end of Star Trek: Voyager, Beltran starred in the film version of Luminarias and the PBS production Broken Sky; he also produced a CD with Latino Poetry readings, available through his web site at http://www.robertbeltran.com

The Big Knife starts November 8 and runs through December 14 at the Lillian Theater, at 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Performances are held Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. and general admission is $25. For ticket information call Tickets LA at (323) 655-8587

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