I’ve heard it said that talk is cheap, though that cliche goes out the window to anyone willing to shoot 40 minutes out of the city down the NJ Transit line to the Chatham Playhouse to see cult favorite ‘Talk Radio’ by Eric Bogosian, a play in which we find ourselves in the middle of the hurricane that is Barry Champlain-- the mouthpiece of a talk radio show in the late 80’s as he juggles callers on the line, management and romantic interference, his own sense of safety, and eventually comes to question the point of all the noise around him.
We piece the story together in the din of at first disconnected conversations (akin to discovering the message unfolding in the seeming chaos in a Cohen Brothers film,) and it clips along with frenetic energy thanks to the superb direction of Michael J. Hegarty, who wastes none of our time and none of the stage telling Barry’s story solidly.
Barry is brought to life by Dominick DeNucci, a gifted actor on his feet who achieves something even more special when behind his desk. There is a subtly to his work to be commended, whether he’s adjusting his watch, flicking a cigarette, or adjusting the microphone.
It’s hard to take your eyes off him, though when you do, you are greeted by the rest of the staff; all cleverly staged behind glass during most of the proceedings, allowing us to always see their reactions to the constant influx of drama. They act as his satellites and all have moments to shine in telling their side of the story that led them to this fateful night, from his friend Stu, loyal yet sarcastic Joey Caramanno, his boss Dan, sheepish yet powerful Dale Monroe Jr, and his secretary Linda, vulnerable yet decisive Christine Talarico. Chip Prestera, Michael Sundberg, Ginger Kipps, and Brittany Goodwin are the talented voices we hear of those calling in, and their versatility breathe life into characters we only hear, but wholly believe exist in this world. Christopher Frazier brilliantly rounds out the cast as Kent in a most memorable performance that may be the only thing that leaves Barry speechless.
Robert Lukasik’s set is a marvel. Every detail of an 80’s radio station is on display: ashtrays, coffeemaker, a computer displaying the green glow of the next callers, and my favorite, the partially obscured posters framed along the back hallway of other talk shows on the network only barely mentioned in the narrative itself. The love and care put into the believability of this set cant go unnoticed, all enhanced by the lighting design of Richard Hennessy, illuminating what needs our attention and leaving the rest in brooding, lonely shadow.
A special mention must also go to the stellar sound design by Joe DeVico. Discussing politics, morality, and the meaning of life would be a handful in ideal situations, much less in dialogue between actors on stage and their counterparts calling into the show. All of this is expertly handled by DeVico, who seamless suppliments these intense conversations with music cues, news reports, and originally composed commercials.
Good theater can sometimes happen on accident, but GREAT theater, and consequently an evening worthy of your time, can only come with the dedication on display by the Chatham Players. The cast, the crew, and the director are putting on a show worth talking about!
Review: Dave Columbo
Photos: Howard Fischer