Shock Jock

Blue Barn is ‘On The Air’ with Talk Radio at Downtown Space Talk Radio struck a timely chord when it was a Pulitzer-nominated play. It seems even more timely 22 years later as it opens at the Blue Barn’s Downtown Space. Then America had shock jocks like Howard Stern and liberal voices such as Alan Berg in Denver. When Oliver Stone turned it into a movie he changed the ending to deal with the assassination of Berg by white supremacists. Now, many Americans dial the bloviating Rush Limbaugh or tune in the histrionics of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. So we’re more painfully aware of politically powerful talk hosts today than when a New York Times review compared Barry Champlain of Talk Radio to “the whip-like intensity” of comedian Lenny Bruce “at the height of his notoriety.” The same review claimed audiences were “alternately captivated and repelled” by Champlain, a character created and played on stage and screen by Eric Bogosian. For director Susan Clement-Toberer and actor Jerry Longe, the challenge is to make likable a rude character who insults callers and cuts them off mid-sentence. “I do think you have to like him,” the director said. “He’s brilliant, comedic and dramatic.” It helps that his female friend and co-workers turn directly to the audience and “tell who he is.” Combine the acting savvy of Equity pro Longe, known in recent years as Ebenezer Scrooge at the Omaha Community Playhouse, and such talents as Connie Lee playing the woman friend, radio talker Dave Wingert as his producer and Gary Planck as his assistant, and the result promises to be potent. Six cast members play 30 characters who call his talk show. A dozen voices, for example, come from one of Omaha’s favorite comedic performers, Theresa Sindelar; others come from Madeline Radcliff. The cast includes Debbie Massey, Andrew Miner and Karl Rohling. One caller, played by Zachary Cook, later shows up at the studio. He’d phoned in the frantic claim that his sweetheart overdosed on drugs only to have Champlain call him a liar. Callers include a woman obsessed with bugs and garbage, a man overly fond of his cats and a woman obsessed with Champlain. While the talk host dominates the rapid-fire action, Shane Staiger as his soundman is on hand to react in somewhat of an everyman role. Wingert as the producer “keeps him finely-tuned, running on edge,” Clement-Toberer explained. The 90-minute no-intermisson intensity is magnified when the producer tells Champlain during a commercial break that he’s going national for the first time. That’s fine with the talker who vows, “This decadent country needs a loud voice and it’s me.” Whether he’s “pilot-fish or piranha,” mostly funny or “malicious to the marrow,” as critics have argued, Champlain is a powerful role for one of this area’s most accomplished actors. Just when his producer worries that he’ll cross the line into forbidden territory in his national test, Champlain becomes all the more outrageous. As the promotional blurb suggests, the controversial Cleveland talk host goes on the air, “doing what he does best, insulting the pathetic souls who call in the middle of the night to sound off.” In short, it’s not just a slice of his life, but the one day in his life that is most crucial to his professional future. Talk Radio runs Sept. 30-Oct. 16, presented by the Blue Barn in the Downtown Space in the Old Market, Thurs.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. and Sun. 6 p.m. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors/students. Call 345.1576 for information or visit bluebarn.org.

posted at 11:37 am
on Thursday, September 30th, 2010

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