Saturday, February 24, 2007

Go Ahead Caller, You're On The Air.

"Talk Radio" at the Longacre Theatre, February 18, 2007

Eric Bogosian's "Talk Radio" originally produced by the NY Shakespeare Festival (now the Public Theatre) in 1987 makes its first Broadway bow. Under the direction of Robert Falls, the cast is fearlessly led by Liev Schreiber as Barry Champlain, a 1980's "shock jock" of the first order.

It's a solid play, but the performances are better than the material. Mr. Schreiber is ruthless in his portrayal of the arrogant Cleveland Ohio radio host. As he is described by his producer, Stu (Michael Laurence) "...Barry looked like he had seen God. In the mirror." His Barry knows the financial success he's brought to the once-struggling radio station and flexes that muscle at every appearance of the station manager, Dan (Peter Hermann).

I struggled a bit with the structure of the play. The action is basically real-time, but there are three direct-address monologues that interrupt the action to provide exposition. Stu's is first and when it comes, it looks like it justifies that Barry (and hence, Mr. Schreiber) needed a break. from their respective shows in progress.

The second is when Linda (the quite beautiful Stephanie March), Barry's assistant and sometime girlfriend/bed partner shares her take on the man. She finds him fascinating, but almost morbidly so, "Barry is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." Despite her words, apparently she does, attempting to call into Barry's show and asking him as an anonymous caller the things she hasn't found the nerve to ask him face to face. Barry immediately recognizes the ploy and ends both the call and the relationship.

The third is that of the station manager, Dan. Mr. Hermann explains that it was he who discovered Barry in Akron while he was developing the whole "shock" approach to talk on the radio. Dan has saved what was a financially failing station by switching to the all talk format and credits himself with creating Barry's on-air persona. With the possibility of taking the show to national syndication, the evening's broadcast is pivotal to everyone's financial success.

Barry takes this bait and runs with it, appearing to dare these potential buyers with the notion of "be careful what you wish for." Dan is terrified over how extreme Barry's show is, but in the end, Barry does prove himself as being right about some controversial events along the way. Dan warns the audience about the battle of Barry's ego over knowing it's just a job. Barry's final revelation points that concept right back at him.

Mark Wendland's broadcast studio is a bit expansive, but has some excellent detail. Laura Bauer's costumes are spot on.

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