Listening to a man scream at people over the radio for almost two hours has never been more enjoyable.
Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio” is a comedy-drama starring Tony-award winner Liev Schreiber. In its first Broadway production at the Longacre Theatre in New York City, “Talk Radio,” based off the eighties hit movie, had the full theatre laughing throughout the entire show. Schreiber, who starred in the “Scream” trilogy, owned the stage, playing Barry Champlain, an obnoxiously blunt talk radio personality. The stage was set up just like a radio station, with Schreiber’s desk and mic at the center of the stage. Other cast members who remained on the stage throughout most of the performance included Champlain’s assistant, Linda MacArthur (Stephanie March); Stu Noonan (Michael Laurence), who connected Champlain to the callers; and Dan Woodruff (Peter Hermann), Champlain’s boss.
The play, directed by Robert Falls, represents a single broadcast of Champlain’s late-night talk radio show, based in 1987. Throughout the performance, Champlain chain-smokes and drinks glass after glass of whiskey and coffee. He is extra on edge and grumpy during this particular broadcast, because Woodruff, his manager, informed him at the beginning of the broadcast that his show was going to go national and no one mentioned it to him beforehand.
Champlain receives several eccentric callers, including a man who insults him for being Jewish and claims he sent Champlain a bomb, a woman who is infatuated with garbage disposals and Kent (Sebastian Stan), a young man who is clearly on a mind-altering substance, and is invited by Champlain into the studio, then later kicked out for yelling at a caller. Before he is kicked out, however, Kent whips out a camera and snaps a picture in Champlain’s face, causing Champlain, and several audience members, to believe Kent was about to shoot him.
Although many of the callers’ comments and stories they share over the air are funny and outrageous, the play’s underlying message never comes to the surface. It is clear that Champlain’s near-shooting experience disturbs him, and a little later in the show he portrays more emotions than just anger, but the message seems to get lost somewhere in the middle. Linda, who has feelings for Champlain, walks out of the studio after Champlain humiliates her over the air and Stu storms out a little while later after Champlain snaps at him for no good reason. Champlain proceeds to end his broadcast by telling all his listeners that they mean nothing to him and their lives would have no meaning if he was not in them. He begins to cry and remains silent for the last 45 seconds of his show, then says goodnight to his listeners. The ending music plays and the next radio personality enters, ending the show.
Schreiber did get a standing ovation and the show did anything but disappoint its audience. However, although Champlain’s emotional ending was moving, it did not end the show on the climactic note that was expected.
“Talk Radio” opens on Broadway March 11 at the Longacre Theatre in New York City.