Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Talk Rad!o

The actor was fantastic. The play mediocre.
There’s nothing between Liev Schreiber and Barry Champlain, the pompous, conceited radio talk show host he plays. Make that embodies. Chain smoking, pouring shot after shot of Jack Daniels and arrogantly dismissing his callers, Schreiber is every bit Barry. He rolls his eyes, slouches in his chair and gestures to his control room team, a restless personification of agitation.
As a Drama Desk voter, I love strong competition in a category. I’ll have a hard time choosing between Schreiber and Frank Langella of “Frost/Nixon.” The play, however, doesn’t belong in the best revival category. It left me with the feeling I had missed something, as if I had come in at the middle and didn’t know how things had progressed to that point. I don’t understand why Barry’s girlfriend, Linda MacArthur (Stephanie March), chooses that evening to leave him after putting up with him all along. I don’t know why he ends up in a raving diatribe this evening -- except for the possible effect of all that drinking -- because I don’t see any motivation for all his anger in the first place.
That anger is certainly apparent, though, right from the start. He enters the studio, perilously close to air time, complaining about people who drive 10 miles an hour and about others who cut people off. Then he sits down to launch into his opinions with callers, telling one that drugs should be legalized to “put the CIA and the Mafia out of business at the same time” and when another expresses an obsessive love for his cat, he tells him to “stop hanging around with the pussy and go get some.”
His program director, Dan Woodruff (Peter Hermann), comes on at one point to give some background narration, telling of Barry’s early success on the air and how it affected him. “He’d seen God -- in the mirror.” When Barry later developed laryngitis, he became depressed. “He missed the sound of his own voice,” Dan says. “Talking is living.”
Well, he definitely does plenty of that. So do his callers, especially one who ends up coming to the studio and going on the air with Barry. That’s when the play began to get tiresome to me.
A question we ask in journalism when deciding whether something is worth writing about is: What makes this night different from any other? It’s borrowed from the Passover question, but it’s meant to help the journalist decide if the event is newsworthy. What makes Barry the way he is and why is he even more so tonight? Those are the unanswered questions for me in this play. And they’re pretty big questions to leave unanswered.

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