“Get me a gun”, Barry Champlain the late night talk show host of TALK RADIO demands, using an expletive never heard in this medium. As Champlain, Liev Schreiber makes a commanding and physically riveting presence…his legs twitching with angst, the veins in his forehead pulsing with anger.
Talking like a loose canon and firing up his callers until he breaks them, Champlain himself is at the breaking point. His show is about to go national and success is scaring the devil out of him. But even Schreiber, an actor who exudes intelligence, depth and sensitivity, can’t seem to make Champlain a really credible character. At least not in this day and age in which the excess of talk just got downsized. There will be even less of it no doubt when XM and Sirius merge.
Written in the 80’s by Eric Bogosian as a performance piece for his own volatile style, RADIO is loosely based on the subversive talk show host Alan Berg, who was gunned down in his driveway by an American neo Nazi group. When the show later opened at The Public Theatre, it included a cast of characters much as it does in Oliver Stone’s 1988 movie. Stone, in his signature style, created the piece as a wake up call to America, putting the empty headed, bigoted and pathological American character on display.
Unfortunately in this Broadway premiere, those characters self obsessions appear loosely suggestive rather than focused or rife with contemporary fodder. This is especially problematic when Kent, a drugged-up caller comes to the station possibly to kill the host. Once there, Sebastian Stan plays the role as an imitation of an 80’s punk kid… heckling, giggling and drooling in awe, as if that were all the reason he needed to be there.
In addition to Schreiber, there are some outstanding individual moments. When Stephanie March as Champlain’s assistant and occasional girlfriend, confesses her unrequited love for Champlain, underscoring his cruelty as well as his weakness. And the various callers, portrayed by a series of actors who we never see, often manage to push our buttons along with the host’s.
But it does seem odd that the show is being revived for a Broadway audience this year. I guess if you can’t sell it on XM or Sirius, the perception is that you can still sell it on Broadway at nearly $100 a pop.
By Isa Goldberg
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