EXTENDED THRU APRIL 28, 2019
By Sandi Durell
Open up those windows, or if you’re in the audience, just scream it out “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” Teetering on the brink, newscaster Howard Beale, the eminent Bryan Cranston as the media mogul gone rogue, is about to be canned by his network because of declining ratings. As he visibly unravels spewing truths, realities mixed with fiction about civil liberties, capitalism, religion, politics, oil prices, the Russians and media manipulation, and all the BS that make up the world around us, expect to be riveted by this exciting stage adaptation, directed by the genius hand of Ivo Van Hove. On stage seating is an interesting touch adding immersive experience along with a narrow platform extending from the lip of the stage into the first few rows of the audience for Bryan Cranston to mingle and further engage.
No longer relying on his teleprompter, Beale becomes the new king of the walk, bringing the Network UBS to new heights in Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Academy Award winning film classic, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. Think ‘National Enquirer’ comes to the Belasco Theatre in the guise of a super emotionally driven prophet. Cranston rants, raves, cries and pleads (and is readying to accept his Tony Award) as facts no longer matter.
But there’s much more going on as the head of this news show, the well selected Tony Goldwyn as Max Schumacher, a person with a heart and obligation to right and wrong, is smoothly manipulated by an unfeeling, eye on the gold ring Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany), who plays him like a fiddle to the extent where he leaves his wife Louise (Alyessa Bresnahan). This is the love?- more sex story that accompanies the tell-all tale of media mind control and gets pretty spicy on video camera displaying the live action in the corner of the stage seating.
As various muck-a-mucks at UBS are shifted and fired, Diana is steadily fixed on ratings as Frank Hackett (Joshua Boone) refers to UBS as “a whorehouse network.”
Beale continues his raging against mankind with no one or thing left unscathed . . . the CIA, the President . . . as he loses touch with reality, all the better for it is Diana’s reaction as “Beale may go one better than the Mary Tyler Moore show.” Even in his underwear, Beale protests, his astonishing monologue proclaiming “I’m a human being – my life has value . . .” as he insists everyone go to their windows, open them and yell those magic words – – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” – – raising the ante of fever and fervor as the cameramen on stage push the audience into participation. Kinda like reality TV – the gospel and propaganda machine at work, here referred to as an amusement park, a circus, an illusion….”turn off your TV and set yourself free!”
UBS is bought by CCA (a private equity company on behalf of the Saudis), and the references are poignant – – those who despise us now own us! Everything is for sale.
When the new CEO of CCA, Arthur Jensen, a formidable Nick Wyman, proclaims that it all boils down to the movement of money, the world is a business, a vast ecumenical holding company – – and Diana becomes hysterical realizing she’s lost her moment and future watching Beale’s ratings in free fall, Beale’s mind a crumbling desert of confusion. And don’t think all this is going on without some degree of levity and laugh out loud moments!
If you haven’t seen the film, or even if you have, no need to go any further, as you must experience some surprises.
The scenic and lighting design is by Jan Versweyveld, as Jan acknowledges a vast wasteland, a newsroom of glass, as eager media seekers run to and fro with cameras readying for the kill, and video screens bring live action to audiences of whatever horrors might be the news of the day. Video design is in the capable hands of Tal Yarden.
The cast is downright sensational! Other cast members to mention include: Ron Canada (Edward Ruddy), Julian Elijah Martinez (Harry Hunter), and Frank Wood (Nelson Chaney).
Other than a script that might need some trimming to eliminate repetition on a theme, Network will hold you in a vise of straight forward and blunt veracity, and a feeling of powerlessness. And . . . one other caveat, depending on where you’re seated, some of the projections and live action take place in various corners of the stage which could become a viewing issue.
It’s always an enlightening time when something we’ve seen so many years ago on the big screen punches you square in the stomach as current, truthful and frightening. And we must answer the question that looms large. . . do we not, as human beings, have the ability to learn from history and past experiences?
To quote Howard Beale “Be afraid of absolute beliefs.”
Network at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44 Street, NYC – Run Time 2 hours (no intermission)