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Theater Review: Talk Radio by Cait Doyle

“Talking is Living”

Our new intern Cait Doyle takes on Talk Radio, a new production in Long Island City.

talk-radio

For Barry Champlain “talking is living” down at the radio station where he is the voice of “Cleveland’s most popular and controversial talk show.” The ornery “Barry” played by Kirk Gostkowski, staggers to his chair, lights a smoke, and sips his Jack Daniels in the black box theatre. He takes his first caller of the night, leaning way back in his chair. Barry, why the over exaggerated facial expressions? The sky high raised eyebrows? He throws his hands in the air emphatically at the caller’s words. He is quick to speak off beat and his timing is off.

Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio” follows a nighttime radio talk show host who is known for being controversial, cutting with his wit, and downright mean. “Barry,” the shows host, often plays with fire talking about everything on the air from drug overdoses to cat litter.

There’s the beautiful assistant we’ve been waiting for, Linda MacArthur! (Christina Elise Perry) She’s doing what she does best, pouring coffee and scowling at Barry. The supporting cast was great, but let’s get back to Grotkowski.

Desperation reeks through the other end of the line. His exasperation is felt at every word the caller says, but Barry’s voice is too high-pitched for the role, even whiny. The amount of cynicism he puts forth lacks the confidence needed behind his words. About a quarter of the house is full and the jokes fall flat. The audience is not buying Barry’s act as a veteran talk show host. The black box theatre has walls built around it and is not the right stage for this production. The lighting is bright like an operating room. Everything is a bit off.

It’s lucky the story is so entertaining they can almost pull it off.   Much of the power of “Talk Radio” is held in the callers and their stories. They hold so much of the audience’s attention we almost forget what a curmudgeon Barry is. The problem with this particular production is that Grotkowski was not strong enough to balance the callers. He did not have enough conviction behind his cranky demeanor to make us want to believe him as the veteran radio show talk show host he was. He seemed to be more of a rookie tonight.

The callers, although anonymous, and never showing their faces, support Barry’s livelihood and allow him to thrive. They are, arguably, the best part of this show and this production. Their voices and stories themselves are very compelling. From garbage disposals, to teen drug overdoses, we are engrossed in them. The supporting cast was superb.

Grotowski redeems himself a bit in the last monologue. I mean who the hell are you anyway…you audience?  You’re on me every night like a pack of wolves…” At this point Grotowski was sweating, and then he broke down in tears. Grotowski came closer to the Barry we all hoped was somewhere behind the tough exterior. He was, of course, more likeable at that moment no longer hiding behind his microphone, but more importantly, we believed him.

“Talk Radio” is playing at the Chain Thetre in Long Island City. The performance schedule is Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday evenings at 8 PM, with matinees Saturday at 2 PM through September 27th.

 

 

 

 

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