Talk Radio at The Chain Theatre

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NY Theater Review By Eric J. Grimm

 

 

 

Variations Theatre Group, which has taken on many late 20th century works from the likes of Neil LaBute, Sam Shepard, and David Rabe, is currently trying its hand at Eric Bogosian’s acclaimed 1987 play Talk Radio. Reviving Bogosian’s drama about shock jock Barry Champlain’s final show before mass syndication is a daunting task considering that the play is a timestamp of radio in the Reagan era. Sure, shock jocks still make waves as evidenced by the recent Anthony Cumia debacle at Sirius/XM, but Talk Radio still feels firmly a product of its time in both the issues it tackles and its dramaturgy. With that in mind, the play hasn’t aged well and this production doesn’t make a great case for keeping Bogosian’s work alive.

If Talk Radio has any enduring quality, it lies within Barry’s interactions with the often unhinged audience members calling into his show. The dialogue is largely vitriolic on Barry’s part and there’s plenty of uncomfortable humor as he berates listeners. What Bogosian doesn’t get right are the peripheral characters. Barry’s long-suffering staff members break awkwardly from the action to deliver monologues that contribute to Barry’s mythos while they remain underdeveloped. Barry’s love interest, Linda, is particularly problematic. She serves only to let us know that Barry has sexual capital and a scene where she calls into the show at the end is incredibly hackneyed.

Director Greg Cicchino’s faithful production rests on Bogosian’s flawed script and often sinks under its weight. As Barry, Kirk Gostkowski, Variations’ co-artistic director, has great difficulty convincing us that he’s a seasoned radio host. His delivery is never as forceful or confident and he doesn’t ever make a strong connection with Barry’s deep-seated cynicism. As his potential romantic foil, Linda, Christina Perry does some fine work here, mining her throwaway character for moments of disappointment in both Barry and herself. The rest of the company struggles to find the rhythm that could make Talk Radio snappy and haunting, though perhaps a production of this dated work was always doomed from the outset.

Talk Radio is playing at The Chain Theatre at 21-48 45th Road in Long Island City from September 12-27. For tickets, visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/29365.

*Photos: Michael Benabib

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