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Monday, March 12, 2007


ModFab On...Talk Radio

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Stephanie March, Peter Hermann, Michael Laurence, and Sebastian Stan

Written by Eric Bogosian
Directed by Robert Falls
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street
- Tickets

What an odd beast of a play Talk Radio seems to be, in its new surroundings on 48th Street. An investigation of America's sometimes innocuous, sometimes morbid infatuation with its own pop-cultural navel, Eric Bogosian's post-Reagan drama depends mightily on its verbosity and stillness. Following a brutally mesmerizing radio talk jockey, Barry Champlain (Liev Schreiber), the action of the play, such as it is, takes place while Champlain sits before two microphones, ranting to callers while smoking like a Pirandellian demon. The emotions are large, but the movement is not. On Broadway -- the land of Disney musicals, cartoon theatricality and overwhelming spectacle -- TALK RADIO stands out like an iconoclastic sore thumb.

And maybe that's a good thing. The play has a few structural weaknesses, notably three direct-address monologues delivered by minor characters that puncture the action...all in an effort to "understand" Barry. Truthfully, however, everything we need to know is right there in Schreiber's masterful performance -- the billowing cynicism, the pungent magnetism, the godlike self-aggrandizement, and the abusive self-doubt. In a spring season that promises many tour de force performances -- we've still got Vanessa Redgrave, Kevin Spacey, and Frank Langella to go, remember -- Schreiber's is a dazzling effort that demands the price of admission on its own merits.

The rest of the occasionally wobbly production, directed by Robert Falls (Death of a Salesman, Aida), skates by on Schreiber's powerhouse work. His producer and sometime paramour, Linda (Stephanie March), is a cold and determined presence; too often, her actor training shows through, leaving an analytical core where the character's heart should be. On the brighter side, teenage caller Kent (Sebastian Stan) -- who actually comes down to the studio to 'sit in' -- is a bright-eyed wonder, as joyfully obtuse as the country he stands in for as a metaphor. The set design by Mark Wendland is rarely more than adequate, while Laura Bauer's costumes are distracting in their obsessive adherence to period.

In any other season, a solid, unassuming production like TALK RADIO would have no problem on Broadway. But with over a half-dozen plays opening between now and May 1st -- including some heavy Tony competition, like Frost/Nixon and Coram Boy (Talk Radio's original production was Off-Broadway) -- one has to wonder if there's enough of an audience to go around. With Schreiber's must-see turn, I certainly hope there is.

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