Ben Cook reviews ‘Talk Radio’, the Barron Theatre, St Andrews, 29 February 2012
Talk Radio, an Eric Bogosian play that was nominated for a Pulitzer and turned into an underrated film by Oliver Stone, is about a disc jockey, or shock jock, whose late-night show is about to go national. The only problem is that his audience of freaks, bigots and attention-starved whack-jobs are beginning to get to him. Caught between goading his callers and self-preservation, Barry Champlain (Lorenzo De Boni) tries to keep his sanity intact as the pressure mounts.
The production, directed by Clare Sheehan and produced by Jennifer Russell, gives us a raw, virile look at the sort of people who dial up talk shows and confess their fears and pet-peeves. Yet Champlain, as he will be the first to admit, is neither a priest nor a God to his listeners. He insults them, mocks their beliefs and when he has drained them dry he cuts them off. Talk Radio is not simply a social study of dysfunction though. Interest is sustained throughout by the sheer charisma of De Boni’s performance as he portrays a man whose disillusionment has finally caught up with his anger. Sweating, spittle flying from his mouth, De Boni captures the character perfectly. In the most intense scenes he resembles an evangelic preacher, spewing forth abuse at left-wing environmentalism (the panda-related remarks are especially poignant) and right-wing narrow-mindedness. All along aware that he is a hypocrite; that his show has corporate sponsors; that he too is guilty of refusing to take seriously all that is going wrong with the world.
Staged at the Barron, the entire play is set in a radio studio. Champlain sits out front behind a desk, while the rest of the cast spend most of their time in the production studio behind him. Interaction is done during commercials, where the exchanges are usually as bitter as the radio calls that preceded them. The cast wonderfully complement De Boni’s character and help us understand the sort of man he has become. Nevertheless, the monologues that Stu (Jasper Lauderdale), Linda (Emily Bell) and Dan (Anthony Simpson-Pike) perform seem superfluous. They break the flow of action and give us little information that could not be more subtly conveyed in conversation. Moreover, Simpson-Pike’s performance as Champlain’s boss was played for laughs when a sense of urgency was needed. In contrast, Kent (Brendan MacDonald), the prank caller high on drugs, had a short but convincing appearance as he forced Champlain to come face to face with the future of America.
Equally funny as it is disturbing, Talk Radio is a daring play that requires its lead to be at the top of his game. Thankfully De Boni does his character justice. While you might leave the play laughing at the memory of some of his callers you might also secretly worry at their number and their affinity to yourself.
Image credit – Adelaide Waldrop