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A CurtainUp Review
Talk Radio

This country, where culture means pornography and slasher films, where ethics means pay-offs, graft and insider trading, where integrity means lying, whoring and intoxication. . .this country is rotten to the core, this country is in deep trouble. . .and somebody better do something about it—Barry.

Barry Champlain is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.—Linda, his assistant on her experience as his occasional lover.
Liev Schreiber in Talk Radio
Liev Schreiber in Talk Radio
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Barry Champlain, Eric Bogosian's 1980s radio talk show host is like a cowboy always ready to gun down his callers with derogatory put downs or by cutting them off mid-wail and whine. In the twenty years since Bogosian wrote and performed Talk Radio — first as a monologue and later as a play with a support cast of studio colleagues and callers, and then as a movie— the sad sacks and weirdos who kept the phones of Champlain's real life counterparts ringing have discovered the Internet's chat rooms and blogosphere. So, yes, even though Bogosian's dialogue still bristles with incisive wit and there are still plenty of media people who build a large fan base by being nasty, it's Liev Schreiber's Barry Champlain who gives this revival its snap, crackle and pop.

Schreiber enters a tall, slim ready to explode human firecracker in a hooded sweatshirt. His relationship to those two microphones on his desk, his restless impatience with and disdain for his callers, and his own self-destructive despair (fuelled by chain smoking, swigs of Jack Daniels, and lines of cocaine) are absolutely mesmerizing to watch. By the time the fireworks of the broadcast (that turns out to be the one to determine whether the Cleveland show will be nationally syndicated) are over, you're exhilaratingly exhausted from watching this man literally wipe himself out before your eyes.

While Schreiber could carry the show all by himself (and essentially does), at a top price just under $100, audiences deserve to see this actor's super star power boosted by a solid, visually exciting, sharply directed production. Director Robert Falls, set designer Mark Wendland and the actors playing Barry's radio station colleagues and the various callers (including an impressive turn by Sebastian Stan as a wild, zonked out teenager who makes an actual appearance) deliver on all counts.

Bogosian's play may not be on a par with some of Falls' previously revived dramas like Arthur Miller's Death of a Saleman and Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, but the director has retained the best of its acerbic intensity by sticking with the original text and letting the audience do its own mental updating. Mark Wendland's authentic recreation of a radio station, with the broadcasting room backed by a glassed-in booth enables us to watch the technical staff's comings and goings. The set also helps the director to smoothly integrate the monologues from Barry's assistant and occasional lover Linda MacArthur (Stephanie March), station manager Dan Woodruff (Peter Hermann) and friend Stun Noonan (Michael Laurence) who acts as the switchboard to ban or put through the callers.

The monologues are basically unnecessary diversions, but thanks to the peppy staging and the actors delivering them, they do shed some light on the complicated Champlain personality — notably Linda's ironic conclusion to her monologue about her off-duty relationship with Barry ("Barry Champlain is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there") and the Dan's description of himself as a sort of racehorse trainer, with Barry likened to a train rather than a horse ("I put him on the track. I keep him on the track. . . I let him go as fast as he can. The faster the better").

Good and attractive as the support cast is, this is so much Schreiber's show that you're likely to miss some of the by-play in that back booth because you're so fixated on his character — the impatiently twitching knees, the drugs and drink taking their toll, the anger and, finally, the pain. It's a role that has best actor awards written all over it.

Talk Radio/Bogosian, Eric
By Eric Bogosian; created for the stage by Mr. Bogosian and Tad Savinar
Directed by Robert Falls
Cast: Liev Schreiber (Barry Champlain), Stephanie March (Linda MacArthur), Peter Hermann (Dan Woodruff), Michael Laurence (Stu Noonan), Christine Pedi (Rachael/Callers' Voices), Barbara Rosenblat (Dr. Susan Fleming/Callers' Voices), Adam Sietz (Sid Greenberg/Callers' Voices), Marc Thompson (Vince Farber/Callers' Voices), Cornell Womack (Bernie/Callers' Voices) and Sebastian Stan (Kent). Talk Radio
Sets: Mark Wendland
Costumes: Laura Bauer
Lights: Christopher Akerlind
Sound: Richard Woodbury
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.
Longacre 220 West 48th Street,: (212) 239-6200.
From 2/15/07; opening 3/11/07
Tuesday—Saturday @ 8PM, Wednesdays & Saturdays @ 2PM, and Sundays @ 3PM.
Tickets: $96.25 to $36.25.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on March 14th

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