The best reason for producing Bogosian’s 1987 play about an abrasive radio host and his nut-job listeners has little to do with whatever relevance remains of the piece’s cultural commentary. In fact, Bogosian’s apocalyptic vision of Reagan-era America as a country on the verge of collapse and “rotten to the core” can seem, at times, downright quaint. Listening to shock-jock Barry Champlain (played by D’Addario in the Gift’s vivid staging) as he berates his loyal listeners for finally bringing society to its lowest possible point, you’re apt to find yourself thinking, How cute that people in the ’80s thought we couldn’t sink any lower.
Bogosian’s shallow character analysis doesn’t do much to justify a revival, either. (Though it was also revived on Broadway a couple of years ago as a vehicle for Liev Schreiber.) While the callers are all cartoonish bigots and morons, Barry proves a pretty conventional victim of his own fame—his narcissism and contempt masking a great deal of uncertainty and dismay. And just in case you miss that during the broadcast, there are explanatory monologues delivered by the long-suffering studio staff during station breaks.
That leaves acting pyrotechnics as the chief reason for reviving the thing. Fortunately, director Payne-Hahner has D’Addario, who matches the coarseness, irony and verbal dexterity of Bogosian’s original interpretation of Barry (preserved in Oliver Stone’s film version) but brings a surprisingly effective edge of steely menace in place of Bogosian’s volatility. This makes Barry’s final breakdown somewhat unconvincing, but D’Addario is never less than riveting. It’s a good thing, too, because Neff—vulnerable but frightening in the throwaway role of an obsessed young fan—would otherwise come very close to stealing the show.