David Hare's Knuckle is didactic as any piece of agit-prop playwriting, but its political parable about how capitalism inevitably corrupts is lodged within a much more complex and ironic story that, philosophically, begins much farther down the road. A strange mixture of Raymond Chandler and G.B. Shaw, the play starts out as a whodunit and becomes something more existential. Curly Delafield sets out to solve the mystery of his sister's disappearance -- an innocent, she seems to have killed herself upon learning of a sordid scandal involving everyone she knew -- and ends up discovering things about himself he knew but did not understand. One discovery is that, despite his attempt to reject his financier father's noiseless exploitation by taking up the disreputable occupation of running guns, he has bought into the same corrupt value system turned to "the sound of progress: the making of money, the breaking of men." Curly's ethical ambiguity makes him a fascinating "unreliable narrator" rather than an author's mouthpiece, and Hare -- a very fine British playwright and overt Marxist -- makes of his moral schizophrenia a dizzyingly cerebral, though, as I say, somewhat didactic drama. The only real flaw is the play's adherence to the more tedious conventions of the mystery genre -- unnecessarily circuitous storytelling, for instance.

These are, unfortunately, what director Geoffrey Sherman stresses most in the Hudson Guild's extremely airbrushed, not-very-thoughtful production. Sherman is content to milk the play's Hollywood-detective routines for maximum recognition and to speed over the thornier character conflicts, and both Paul Wonsek's overly stuffy settings and Daniel Gerroll's pretty-boy performance as Curly conspire against a certain grittiness the play requires. Gwyllum Evans is properly fastidious as Curly's father, though, and beautiful Fran Brill is a knockout as the brainy barkeep who knows all the secrets.

Soho News, March 18, 1981