Fans of Shock Jocks will Love Talk Radio
Barry Champlain, the intense shock-jock played to a ‘T’ by Bob Lussier in the stage presentation of Talk Radio by TheatreWorks New Milford, is an in-your-face, take-no-prisoners kind of guy.
He has to be: Grabbing the attention of thousands of listeners, night after night, in the declining medium of radio, is grueling work.
Late night radio listeners in Cleveland, Ohio, are elusive and tough-to-please. Yet Champlain fights to win everyone. You want nuance? Gentile discussion? You won't find it here. Champlain wields a 2x4, not a scalpel. He abuses callers, advertisers and staff alike in his effort to deliver the confrontational entertainment his listeners have come to crave.
Large in stature, Lussier (of Danbury) commands the compact TheatreWorks stage just as Champlain does the invisible airwaves. Much like a coiled spring, Lussier repeatedly explodes into action as he does verbal battle with everyone. His character is hardly admirable. He browbeats and ridicules. He is the ultimate chip-on-the-shoulder. But Lussier wins him grudging admiration through his non-stop effort and the sheer expenditure of energy.
Providing just the right balance to this driven prima donna is a support cast led by Tom Libonate, (of Danbury), who plays program producer Dan Woodruff. Woodruff created the persona of Champlain and gave him his start.
But now, on the cusp of a big pay-off via a national syndication deal, Woodruff is afraid that Champlain's no holds barred antics will send the deal south. He wants him to dial it back a notch. If you've ever seen an all spin/no substance corporate type, Libonate is it.
Also of note in the production is James Hipp (of Danbury), who plays Stu Noonan, a loyal audio technician who regularly experiences the verbal wrath of Champlain. Others providing a glimpse of real-world balance to the mercurial Champlain are Alex Echevarria and Beth Bonnabeau (both of New Milford). Echevarria plays Syd Greenberg, a fast-talking tax advisor who outlines a clever mortgage pyramid scheme, while Bonnabeau portrays the serene psychologist Dr. Susan Fleming and gives the play a calming conclusion.
Adding to the quality of the performance is an excellent set design that underscores the dominance of Champlain while minimizing the roles of those around him. Especially effective are the scenes where the producer Woodruff is seen, but cannot be heard, behind a glass partition.
The audio of the radio listeners who call in is tinny on purpose, to emphasize the disparity in power and influence. It could be a bit less garbled at times to aid the audience's ability to follow the on-air debates.
Director Susan Abrams, a 30-year theater veteran with an impressive array of both acting and directing credentials, also designed the set. The crew includes lighting designer Richard Pettibone and sound designers Tom Libonate and Scott Wyshynski.
Talk Radio, by Eric Bogasian, made its world premier at The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival on May 12, 1987, and its Broadway debut at The Longacre Theatre on March 11, 2007, where it earned two Tony Award nominations. Oliver Stone adapted the play into a critically acclaimed motion picture in 1988.