Directed by M. Payne-Hahner
At The Gift Theatre
Eric Bogosian’s award-winning 1987 play seems somehow less relevant today than it did 20 years ago. The play takes place in a Cleveland radio studio of that time over the course of an evening as radio talk host Barry Champlain serves up his nightly dish of hang-ups, insults and drivel. In fairness, it’s the callers who serve up the drivel; and that is the point of the play: that society has become so voyeuristic that the banal details of people’s dreary lives have become their entertainment. Bogosian was dead-on when he nailed the genre back in ‘87, but that was before Rush Limbaugh was a household name and back when the Larry King Virus was still somewhat contained.
Gift Theatre stalwart Paul D’Addario plays the coke-snorting, not-that-shocking-by-today’s-standards Champlain with great finesse. He boozes and cokes his way through his sorry show on the eve of its going national. Who can blame him? Champlain knows how pathetic the show is and he has gone beyond contempt for the fools who call him to self-contempt for having ever believed, it was anything but a job to pay his bills. He is surrounded by people who have believed in him and who still believe in what he does to some extent. There is station executive producer Dan Woodruff (John Kelly Connolly), who is propelling the show to national syndication; Barry’s long-time board operator Stu Noonan (Ed Flynn), who gave up his own on-air career to ride Barry’s wave; and impressionable assistant producer Linda MacArthur (Hillary Clemens), who finds Barry’s bedroom a nice place to visit, but not the kind of place where you would want to live. Off-stage we hear the voices of the call-in loonies: pregnant, addicted, racist, air-headed, suicidal, attention-seeking, etc.
Director M. Payne-Hahner has the show nicely paced, but at the end of the day the thing that this production of Talk Radio has going for it is Paul D’Addario. The guy delivers a performance that is so realistic that you will believe there really is a Barry Champlain and that he is right there in front of you. The dialogue of the one-dimensional callers is as thin bargain toilet paper and Champlain’s retorts aren’t much better in spots, but D’Addario delivers his lines with so much energy and conviction that his performance, frankly, offsets everything else. The other actors hold up their end in fine form, so Talk Radio gets a qualified recommendation. I can guarantee that you will be engrossed by Paul D’Addario whether or not you agree with me about some of the material.
At The Gift Theatre,4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL, 773-283-7071, tickets $15-$20, Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 3:30 pm, running time is 1 hour, 25 minutes with no intermission.