Archive Review: Talk Radio

From March 2007:

The underlying subject matter of “Talk Radio” is obviously not as timely as it was when Eric Bogosian wrote it in the 1980s. At the time, Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh had yet to bring the titular radio format to the zenith of its popularity—and the nadir of its quality.

Today, some radio hosts are worshiped by masses much larger than are imagined in this play. They’re treated like movie stars, and have exerted a broad political influence that would have been impossible to predict—none of this is yet in play at the time “Talk Radio” takes place.

Still, in show host Barry Champlain, Bogosian created a character for the ages. Barry tells it like it is—or at least as he honestly sees it—with blazing directness, intensity and caustic humor. Barry’s radio show “Night Talk” is about to go from its local Cleveland market to national syndication—if the powers that be are impressed by the show that the play “documents.”

Champlain’s ambitious enough to want the change, but he also realizes over the course of the night the limits that both he and his audience face—they are all too human (for better and worse). The details of the world Bogosian portrays may be a bit dated, but the sad state of the human condition he portrays still rings dreadfully true.

In the hands of the right actor, Champlain is both a tragic hero and a totally believable human being. There couldn’t be an actor more right than Liev Schrieber—as Champlain he delivers one of the most electrifying (not to mention broodingly sexy) performances of the season.

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