Stage Rendition Of Talk Radio – A Great Showcase For Rosencrance
Talk Radio by Eric Bogosian (now at the Met Theatre in Hollywood, Thursdays through Sundays until July 27) is not so much about talk radio–a recent explosive cultural phenomena on the American scene–as about an obsessed personality who uses his voice as a weapon, his wit as a whip, and his intelligence like an attack dog. And his festering anger– nay his hate–to get even. With whom? Everybody, it seems. You and me, and those that deserve his opprobrium. No one is immune.
Barry Champlain, here played by Adam Rosencrance, our hero in question, reminds me of the Brando character in The Wild One, who, when asked by a cop what are you against, sneers, “Whaddya got?” But Barry Champlain is not an underdeveloped and inarticulate rebel striking out for the sake of striking out. Barry is real smart, and clear in his mind that he detests hypocrisy, loathes being a toady to his boss or his audience, but nevertheless wants to make this world a better place.
His vehicle? Talk Radio. And he damn near succeeds. His enemies are not the pathetic callers who often don’t know what they are talking about but are only too eager to be hostile — his only serious enemy is himself. Neither is it the corporate interests who want him to cozy up to a phony style that will appeal to more listeners. I am sure his epitaph will say, “I was right all along. How come those fools didn’t get that?” We are in Cleveland during the Reagan years, and although Barry Champlain is not political, he is sensing the culture is swinging away from him. When a caller tells him she adores him, he demands to know why! But she can’t find the reason. He explodes. Blind devotion is what the minions of Nazism did. You must know why, he screams. He despises her as much as he despises those who hate him. You must know why.
The part of Barry Champlain is, of course, a tour de force, requiring an actor of intrinsic skill, great comic timing (yes, I said comic), and a lack of fear that he will delve into excessive theatrics. He almost does–yes, I said almost. That’s the key. In a remarkable performance Rosencrance delivers a searing portrait of a man just shy of personal madness. Driven. At times hysterical. Abusive to all who come into his orbit. He is racing toward a cliff. We sense he knows this, and are left with the fear he will be killed in the parking lot at night. (In the film, he is.) Or will he do it himself?
During the course of one rather turbulent show, Barry a) opens a box sent by a caller who claims it’s a bomb which he treats it as a joke. It is–it contains a dead rat; b) a freaky hippie named Kent (Derrick Cole in a well-realized and strenuous turn), manages to con his way onto the show in person only to be summarily thrown out, and c) denigrates his chances of the show going into syndication by revealing to his producer Dan Woodruff, an excellent smarmy turn by Marc Ian Sclar, that despite good ratings, this night he hates what he did! (Impulsively inviting Kent to come on the show.) Barry Champlain is a man who would never sully his principles and pander to his audience for ratings. But we know he did. He does too, and suffers deeply for that failing. He is, in the end, a committed self-flagellant. Stay away from him. But admire and pity Champlain.
As a fan of the film, which I highly recommend, playwright Eric Bogosian played the lead. This production at the Met Theatre, directed with articulate skill by Ben Kusler, is a more than excellent rendition.