by Michael Bracken
“Raymond P. Talley, a security consultant for the Packard Planning Corporation, forty-two.”
That’s Penny Talley (Kate Loprest) reading from the obituary section of the New York Times in Dick Brukenfeld’s stumbling comedy, The Big Broadcast on East 53rd, at the TBG Theatre, directed by Charles Maryan. She is reading both to and about her husband, Ray (John Patrick Hayden). The Times says he died, but he’s standing before her, very much alive. What does she believe, the newspaper or her own eyes? The newspaper, of course. As she tells Ray, “The Times doesn’t make mistakes.”
And there you have the basic premise of The Big Broadcast on East 53rd, from which the rest of the play flows, or at least emanates – its bumpy ride is not quite flowing. But it’s not always choppy either. Ray, eager to prove himself alive, is a smooth operator, while Penny clings to the account in the paper of record, perhaps in part because she’s weary of her husband’s antics. Ray, you see, is neither a shrinking violet nor the strong, silent type. He’ll never blend in with the furniture (which set designer Atkin Pace has covered with burlap on which blueprints have been drawn). Quite the contrary. This is someone who enters a room by making a broad jump from the doorway. He then takes out a tape measure to gauge his distance but even more to use as a microphone, broadcasting analysis of his feat to a non-existent audience. The ersatz microphone comes out often, broad jump or not.
Hayden is amazing as Ray. His character is all over the map, and wherever he goes we follow. Ray is always “on” but never seems forced. Whether making a move on Penny’s friend Ruth (Alexis Bronkovic), dismissing his brother Mungo (Chris Thorn – wearing judge’s robes in anticipation of an election victory) or schmoozing his employer Fred (Bill Tatum), his relentless energy is always true to the moment, as wacky as that moment may be.
The Big Broadcast is full of wacky moments, but not wacky enough to produce many laughs. You can hear lines that want to be punchlines, but they just don’t have enough punch. Which is a shame because Brukenfeld has a great ear for dialogue. There’s a cadence to his characters’ lines that consistently rings true, both as to character and the play’s skewed reality.
What’s missing is a target. In large part, the play is about the media’s hold over us. But its humor, at least until the second act, does nothing to skewer a subject that should be fair – and fairly accessible – game. Nor does it zero in on other tears in the social fabric. It just kind of does its own thing, full of quirky tics but failing to zero in on distinct, recognizable prey.
That would be fine if it had the frothy frivolity or madcap mayhem of inspired silliness. But it doesn’t.
In its final scene, the play comes into its own, as Ray and his entire entourage traipse down to the obituary department of the New York Times. They meet with the obituary editor, Khaki (played with calculated flair by JoAnna Rhinehart), who tells them they have to solve their own family problems but points them, and in particular Ray, in the right direction. The scene is dramatically tighter, with more comic energy, than anything that precedes it.
The set is sharper as well. From the transient aura of walls covered with floor plans and chairs covered with sackcloth, we’re transported to a well-appointed office with a sense of permanence. Through the window we see a backwards “w Yo” from the middle of the Times’s logo. It’s fitting that the institution that bred Penny and Ray’s dilemma in the first place is where it gets resolved.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Through February 25, 2017, at the TGB Theatre, 312 West 36th Street. www.thebigbroadcasttheplay.com 2 hours with one intermission.