Day: February 18th, 2007

We love Liev

Sunday, February 18th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

February 18 post:

Thanks to EB’s connections, we scored tickets to actor-playwright Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio at The Longacre, which opens officially on Broadway March 11. (And thanks to DB, I now know a little more about Actors’ Equity rules and what it means to be in previews.)

The play stars Tony winner Liev Schreiber as controversial late night radio host, Barry Champlain. Talk Radio debuted at The Public Theater in 1987, with the playwright in the starring role. In 1988, it was made into a critically well-received film, directed by Oliver Stone. Bogosian loosely based his play on the 1984 murder of radio host Alan Berg.

Schreiber is the foremost American Shakespearean actor of his generation, as evidenced by his decade-long partnership with the Public, for which he took on the roles of Macbeth, Hamlet, Iago and Henry V among others. On stage, he is a large, imposing presence — fiery, dynamic and completely riveting. The play belongs to Schreiber; he is on stage for almost the entire time, enraging the show sponsors, his callers, his call screeners, his station manager and his producer/sometime lover (played by Bogosian’s fellow Law & Order alum, Stephanie March, a.k.a. Mrs. Bobby Flay.)

With its disturbing (and disturbed) callers and tough themes, the play itself is far easier to respect than to love. Schreiber, as always, is spectacularly and grotesquely raw in his embodying portrayal of Champlain; even in his dark, silent moments — quaking with frustration, compulsively smoking his endless chain of cigarettes or snorting lines of coke, just off the main spotlight — Schreiber commanded this audience’s rapt attention. His character seemed to represent the id in us all, which left to run rampant, feasts on our desire for invincibility, only in the case of Champlain, to crumble tragically as he glimpses into the isolation and fragility of the world he has created. It’s a performance that was at turns raging, cruel and vulnerable. (One hopes that Schrieber is somewhat less scary and intense in person.)

If the context of the call-in radio show feels dated, it is perhaps a by-product of how times have changed since the play’s introduction two decades ago. It’s a problem that also arguably plagued Bogosian’s 2006 revival of subUurbia about grunge-era disaffected teens.

Is it ironic that the initial radio ads for Talk Radio were banned from radio?

No midnight countdown to the Year of the Pig, but Times Square still commemorates the occasion in its own way.

Happy Chinese New Year

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