Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Talk Radio - May 2, 2007

When Eric Bogosian's Talk Rad!o was produced back in 1987 I had no interest. Just didn't grab me. When it came to Broadway this year, it still didn't grab me. But I couldn't resist seeing Liev Schreiber live on a stage. And that much alone was worth it.

Talk Rad!o
is not a horrible play, it's simply flawed. I think this production gave it a great shot, but ultimately it's not a terrific play. For the most part the show focuses on Barry Champlain (Liev Schreiber) doing his Night Talk radio show, speaking with people who call in to the show giving him fodder for extemporaneous rants. This is when the play swings along at its best. The voice actors who play the various callers are to be commended and Liev Schrieber is as sharp and spontaneous as if he were actually doing a live radio call in show. In fact, had this show been an audio book or a podcast I would have been just as happy. Schrieber has a voice that any actor would sell their mother to have; luckily that voice belongs to a wonderful actor who knows what to do with it and gives as subtle and natural a performance as I've seen on a Broadway stage. As Barry knocks back the Jack Daniels, his progression into intoxication is so slight as to go almost unrecognized - but it's there and quietly truthful.

However even this talented actor cannot make this a better play. While it is a wonderful vehicle for him, and indeed any actor playing the Barry Champlain part, the segments when he is offstage and his co-workers are telling the audience how they first met him are like watching commercials. They give a bit of backstory, but truthfully it could have been integrated more fluidly. As it stands it simply gives Schrieber a moment to get offstage and give that gorgeous voice a moment's rest. This is not to downplay the actors who must give these expository speeches; this is a writing issue. Theirs is a thankless job, which is too bad as they clearly do the very best they can with the material at hand. The voice actors fare far better as the call-in segments are gems.

The set by Mark Wendland is smart and true in its utilitarian representation of a radio station (hardly the glamour end of the entertainment industry). The sound design by Richard Woodbury was dead-on and the use of John Lennon's version of Stand By Me for the close was well chosen. Lights by Christopher Akerlind helped with the sense of isolation and chill, especially when characters were in the upstage glassed in offices. Costumes by Laura Bauer evoked the period.

As a character piece, Talk Radio works. As a complete production it needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Talk Radio
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250

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