Monday, March 12, 2007

Did Critics Find Talk Radio Worth Tuning Into?

Did Critics Find Talk Radio Worth Tuning Into?

Last evening, Eric Bogosian's twenty year old play about Talk Radio opened on Broadway. With heavy duty talent like Robert Falls at the helm and Liev Schreiber at the mike, critics were roundly enthusiastic about the latter's performance, even if they were mixed on the overall result.

Proclaiming Talk Radio "gut-grabbing," The New York Times' Ben Brantley waxes rhapsodic on Schreiber: "Directed by Robert Falls, who provides a solid frame for his incandescent leading man, this revival may not make a case for Mr. Bogosian’s 1987 drama as a play for the ages....But like the original production...it allows its star to grab an audience by the lapels and shake it into submission. Anyone familiar with Mr. Schreiber’s stage work...will regard this opportunity as a privilege. With Talk Radio Mr. Schreiber, who won a Tony two years ago for his performance in Glengarry Glen Ross, confirms his status as the finest American theater actor of his generation, a man capable of presenting clouded, complicated minds with searing clarity....Mr. Schreiber offers a balance between intelligence and instinct, both invigorating and reassuring, that is made for the theater. You know you’re in the hands of the ultimate professional."

Calling the production "more timely today than it was 20 years ago," New York's Daily News critic Joe Dziemianowicz is largely positive: "The play is built around Barry's bilious on-air jabs at callers and offair arguments with staff at the studio, realistically designed by Mark Wendland. Whenever Schreiber is talking, Radio crackles with intensity....I was...disappointed by some of Barry's callers, who include an array of bigots, pregnant teens and a woman fixated on her garbage disposal. After a few exchanges, the misfits sounded cartoony and contrived. It's a misstep in Robert Falls' otherwise solid production."

Eric Grode of the New York Sun appears mostly impressed: "Mr. Falls does a fine job enlivening the necessarily static act of sitting at a microphone, but he stumbles with the arrival of Chet (Sebastian Stan), a hopped-up youth who comes to the station for a live chat. His arrival is meant to signify a turning point, as Barry soon loses control of both his callers and his own emotions. But Mr. Stan's performance, while diverting, lacks the unpredictable menace that this pivotal segue requires. Even without it, though, Mr. Schreiber twists Barry's arrogance, helplessness, and self-loathing into a memorable freefall."

In his mostly favorable review, David Rooney of Variety writes: "The bleak cynicism behind the play now seems prescient in its observation of a media in which news has been co-opted by entertainment and personal crises are fodder for public consumption. The mesmerizing hold of the central character -- and Schreiber's performance -- is all the more remarkable given that the play is dramaturgically less than rock-solid....[A]s both an actor's tour-de-force and a stinging cultural analysis, Talk Radio offers plenty to chew on."

Taking note of the "verbal overkill" in his two-and-a-half-stars review, New York Post's Clive Barnes separates the great performance from the piece: "I could have done with less of Talk Radio itself -- or simply more of a real play than this nowadays obvious and repetitive character study in self-hating, control-freak absorption. For despite the energized, valiant efforts of director Robert Falls and the whole cast, quite apart from Schreiber's own deeply controlled virtuosity, the play, opening last night at the Longacre Theatre, today has the weary air of a one-trick pony, bristling with bells and whistles, stuck on a treadmill."

Noting that listening to Talk Radio is "not particularly satisfying work," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara offers this mixed assessment: "Time has taken a toll on the play, particularly its phone conversations, which seem less edgy and more predictable than they did when Talk Radio first was presented off-Broadway two decades ago. Fortunately, in this revival, which opened Sunday at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, Barry is portrayed by Liev Schreiber, an intense, idiosyncratic actor who is fun to watch."

Since each critic provides ample fodder for upcoming ads to tout Talk Radio (irrespective of what they've said about the show itself), will this be enough to attract more audience members to a show that has been struggling in the 40 to 50% range of capacity during previews? Guess we'll have to keep tuning into the box office figures during this show's limited run, which is scheduled to end on June 24.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Talk Radio: Opens To Callers Tonight (March 12, 2007)
The Little Dog Left (February 19, 2007)

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2 Comments:

At 12 March, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

Wow, "the finest American theater actor of his generation." That's some statement from Mr. Brantley. I don't know enough to question his appraisal. Is it widely acknowledged to be true?

 
At 12 March, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, That is indeed quite an absolute as Isaac Butler at Parabasis points out where he seeks some answers to "in comparison to what?" It's a valid question, although I'll bet Brantley would be quick to say, "Compared with every other actor of his generation."

 

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