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Theater Tue Jul 27 2010

Review: State Theatre's Talk Radio

It wasn't until I saw The Nine's raucous staging of Suburbia this past winter that I realized how irrelevant Eric Bogosian's plays have become. But while that production had its problems, it still utilized its bare-bones budget and empty playing space to breathe life into a grating, dated piece of work. The State Theatre's current production of Bogosian's Talk Radio (which is, arguably, his best and most relevant play), which follows Barry Champlain, a shock-talk DJ on the night before his popular radio show goes national, overpopulates, overcrowds, and over-conceptualizes by burying the text beneath bundles of wire, video screens, and Mac computers that have no place in a play set in 1987.

The State, a young and ambitious company, is clearly into technology, social networking, and how we can incorporate them into live performance. They stream their rehearsals online and encourage audience members to use their phones to take photos, send text messages, and update their Facebook and Twitter accounts during the show. These are bold innovations that raise important questions (and have already been generating some discussions in the Twitterverse). But lively debates don't always make for strong, implementable ideas. The abundance of modern technology onstage already provokes confusion in the play's Reagan-era universe, so what does it add to have bright squares of light popping up all over the dark theatre? In any other circumstance, I go nuts when I see cell phones out during a play or movie, so does having it sanctioned by the theatre make it any less distracting? I say no. The State leads us to believe this will heighten the themes of the play, and maybe with the right play it could, but here it reads as a cheap gimmick.

These misguided concepts could be forgiven, maybe, if the play itself was artistically sound. But director Ross Matsuda further muddies up the proceedings by giving us bodies to go along with the voices Bogosian provides in his script. While several of the actors, especially Rachel Griesinger and Jacob Murphy, give charming, spirited performances, Bogosian's play is about voices, and something is lost by their physical interactions with Barry, a man becoming more and more detached from the physical world.

There is still relevance within Bogosian's vitriol. His characters are exciting, his language is razor-sharp (if a bit dated), but maybe the key isn't in the amping up of superficial elements, but in their stripping down. Forget about the technology for a moment and focus on the art.

Talk Radio runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through August 15 at the Heartland Studio (7016 N. Glenwood Ave.). Tickets are $18 and available online or at the door.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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