Twenty-odd years ago, Bogosian directed a spotlight onto a dark corner of the media landscape with his portrait of narcissistic, misanthropic talk-radio host Barry Champlain. From his perch at Cleveland’s WTLK all-talk station, Barry lambastes and encourages a lunatic parade of American voices, who detail their racial obsessions, relationship problems and lingering suspicions about garbage disposals. Since the play’s initial Off Broadway run, talk radio’s profile and craziness quotient have risen considerably. Next to Glenn Beck or satellite-based knuckleheads Opie and Anthony, Barry now looks relatively humane, at least occasionally interested in making a connection with his listeners, even out to teach them something. How does Bogosian’s play hold up in the Breitbart-dominated world of 2010?
The piece has always been as much a performer’s showcase as a social commentary, driven initially by Bogosian’s own hypnotic charisma. A recent revival starring Liev Schreiber demonstrated that another, suitably intense actor could take on Barry’s mantle. While Randall does a creditable job here as the radio host, he’s no Bogosian or Schreiber—who could expect him to be? Through its two hours, the play often approaches sheer monologue, and Randall delivers it with adept pacing, often nailing the host’s toxic combination of self-regard and prurience. But Talk Radio, it turns out, is unforgiving: Without a full-fledged dynamo at its center, the repetitive weirdness of Barry’s callers and the basic lack of a plot come to the fore. The evening ends up uncomfortably close to a real radio show, with flashes of strange beauty punctuating the general tedium.