(Talk Radio Website)
Written By Eric Bogosian
Created for Stage by Eric Bogosian and Tad Savinar
Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals,
Francis Finlay, Ronald Frankel, James Fuld, Jr., Steve Green,
Judith Hansen, Patty Ann Lacerte, James Riley,
Mary Lu Roffe/Mort Swinsky, Sheldon Stein,
Terri and Timothy Childs/Stylefour Productions,
Irving Welzer/Herb Blodgett,
In association with the Atlantic Theater Company
220 West 48th Street
Stephanie March, Peter Hermann, Michael Laurence,
Christine Pedi, Barbara Rosenblat, Adam Sietz,
Marc Thompson, Kit Williamson, Cornell Womack, and Sebastian Stan
Directed by Robert Falls
Set Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Richard Woodbury
Press: Jeffrey Richards Assoc./Irene Gandy
Production Stage Manager: Jane Gray
Casting: Telsey + Company
General Management: Albert Poland
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
Technical Supervision: Neil A. Mazzella
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 23, 2007
Liev Schreiber, last reviewed in this magazine in his Tony award-winning role in Glengarry Glen Ross, coolly collected with a constant cigarette, is now explosively engaging with a constant cigarette, plus glasses of whisky, Pepto-Bismol, and a bit of cocaine to top it off. Richard Roma has morphed into Barry Champlain, a 1987 Cleveland, late-night talk show host with hundreds of dysfunctional fans, who wine, worry, whimper, and literally pull the wool over his eyes, one after the other, every night, as self-entertainment and as a mirror into the lowest spectrum of this country’s cultural depths. Schreiber, as Barry Champlain, is capable of turning his most avid fan into psychic depression with his acerbic, confrontational way with words. He is also capable of making a good deal of money for his station manager, Dan Woodruff (Peter Hermann), who has been offered national syndication, if only this one show pleases the buyers.
There are few serious plays worth seeing twice in the same season, once for the theater and intellectual draw, and once for one actor’s sheer acting. This immediate sense of needing to return is a result of Schreiber’s extraordinary talent, and, second time around, there’s no need to relate to the suspense, so one could just study this artist within his extreme theatrical skill. When Champlain grabs his radio microphone, he could be grabbing a woman. It’s a need fulfilled. He needs to smoke, drink, do drugs, and talk, possibly more than grabbing a real woman, and that real woman, Linda MacArthur (Stephanie March) is just a few steps away, an attractive, slim blonde, with whom he has spent a dozen nights, and whom he brutally insults, when she, herself, calls in to the station pretending to be a woman worried about her man. Champlain spies Linda through the glass walled station-set, and he verbally sends her packing with some quick gutter language. Champlain saves himself for his listeners, his fans, the ones whom he can’t touch.
Actually, one listener does come to the stage, Kent (Sebastian Stan), a punk-rock, spiky-haired druggy, who admits on air that the girl, that he screamed was dying, doesn’t even exist. Champlain and this listener now sit opposite each other, two microphones on air, and one wonders what will become of Champlain, if this punk loses it. We get to witness that action first-hand. We also see Champlain seriously threatened by a hater of Jews (Champlain reveals his soul in a tale about his visit to Dachau and a discovery of a tiny lost star of David). We also see Champlain open the brown package this crazed listener sends, and the theater is breathless. Not so breathless are we in the entertaining calls made by six actors beneath the stage, disguised as a pregnant teen, a weird man in love with his cat, foreboding racists, a woman who fears her sink disposal, and many more, inarticulate attention-seekers.
The one real person, to whom Champlain relates, is his tech guy, Stu Noonan (Michael Laurence), a lanky, tough, and very loyal partner, who chooses the callers and guides the show’s host. Noonan also gets the heat for the “crazies” and the threats. But, when the most dysfunctional call back, Champlain demands the heat, the tension, the window for his words. One of Bogosian’s devices (Bogosian played the original Champlain in 1987) is for Stu, Dan, and Linda to take a star turn at telling the audience in focused spotlight some background information on their relationships with Champlain (Perhaps Schreiber gets a few well-deserved breaks in this intermission-less show). March (Linda) was especially effective as Champlain’s on/off-again lover. Schreiber exuded just a hint of sexual desire in her presence – a glance, a smile, a relaxation of demeanor. Speaking of demeanor, Schreiber has so internalized his role that each cigarette, each glass of whiskey, and even the behind-the-glass cocaine fix transforms his persona with facial twitches, shaky knees, perspiration, skin color, posture, gait, and mood. This transformative technique is minutely nuanced with seamless timing.
There are other back-room characters who appear and disappear, as they would in a real radio station, cleaning up, moving equipment, taking turns. There are also other radio hosts who precede and follow Champlain, like a tabloid psychologist, Dr. Susan Fleming (Barbara Rosenblat, one of the six hidden callers). But, one of the unseen stars is Mark Wendland, who created an authentic 1987 Cleveland station set, with real tape recorders, buttons, wires, and black heavy metal boxes that would now be sleek, computerized technology. In fact, Wendland traveled to Chicago for outdated equipment in newly renovated studios, and he was lucky. The set is life-like, with the glass wall quite effective in keeping Champlain front center, at his table, with his cigarettes, whiskey, microphones, and headphones. Richard Woodbury, sound designer, has created equally nuanced amplification, allowing the audience to enjoy Schreiber’s Shakespearean tones in these very, non-Shakespearean dialogues.
Talk Radio exists for lonely callers and a lonely show host, who dissolves in the live presence of one of his fans. The language is bold, caustic, witty, sarcastic, and, at times, downright cruel. But, at his most poignant, Schreiber finally finds himself speechless, and the “dead air” is palpable. Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio with Liev Schreiber is must-see-twice, riveting theater.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus
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