Falls — seated next to the "grandmaster of the play," Bogosian, at a Jan. 16 press event — spoke of the playwright with great reverence. "He created [the play] for himself, and we sort of look to him as the guru. He's like one of the grand Kabuki masters who's been playing a role for 20 years, and he's handing it down to his young charge, Liev Schreiber." (Tony Award winner Schreiber assumes the role of the talk show hotshot Barry Champlain in the show's first Broadway staging.)
His plan of attack: "Attack's a good word," said Falls. "To me, it's a remarkable play because on one hand it's extremely stacked and it exists so much in Barry's head, but it opens up to this tremendous life of movement, of people in a radio station behind him. I'm up for the challenge."
Also up for the challenge and inhabiting the world around Barry are "Law & Order" veterans Stephanie March and Peter Hermann. The duo also recently brushed up their stage chops in a benefit reading of The Laramie Project. "I haven't been on stage in like five years — it was really time," March explained about her first return to Broadway since 1999's Death of a Salesman (also a Falls show). The actress takes on the role of Linda, Barry's co-producer who is also more than a co-worker. "She's a love interest for Barry [and there's a bit of] a snarky working relationship. It's always good to do something different."
Hermann, already stepping into his character, recites his role complete with station identification: "Dan Woodruff, Station Manager at WTLK. I'm getting used to saying that 'WTLK!'" The medium of radio is slightly more personal for the actor. "It's interesting because I've been in front of cameras where I know it's going to be broadcast, but somehow the thought of talking and being heard by people — somehow there was something really frightening to me about [doing publicity work on radio]; to only have people hear my voice, it's a totally different dynamic." With Talk Radio he returns to the Longacre where he last appeared on Broadway in Judgment at Nuremberg in 2001.
Playing Barry's right-hand man or "[caller] expediter," Stu Noonan, is playwright-actor Erik Jensen, who has previously worked with Bogosian. "He was in my show, The Exonerated [penned with wife Jessica Blank], so this is his revenge." The actor — seen Off-Broadway in Y2k, Corpus Christi and in the upcoming mini-series "The Bronx is Burning" — is relishing his role as the "longtime friend of Barry's from before Barry was successful, which creates a whole interesting dynamic for the two of them. There's kind of an old friendship but also a competition. And, let's face it, I get to be in an Eric Bogosian play with this cast and I get to talk about Jethro Tull on stage — that's the Broadway trifecta." Among the number of performers who will literally be phoning in their roles (as the many varied callers on the talk show) is Forbidden Broadway veteran Christine Pedi. "I'll be in the soundproof booth [backstage] just being dysfunctional and irritating and spewing love and anxiety . . . kinda like what I normally do on the phone." The actress also moonlights as a radio host herself for Sirius satellite radio's "Broadway Breakfast" on the Broadway channel. "I do a lot of voiceovers, and I love to do them. I love radio, and I majored in radio in college. So, on some level, in this particular moment in time, everything is lined up in the right order," said Pedi, quipping, "Yes, the earth is going to open up and swallow me whole any minute now."
Director Falls summed up his vision by saying he is treating the 20-year-old Bogosian work — which he says "remains absolutely contemporary and prescient" — as a new play. "You even read it, and it feels like it's predicting the rise of the Internet, the blog, YouTube. He's writing about a world where everybody has sort of an equal voice and everybody wants to be heard. And how does that either deaden or make the world a better place — everybody's got an opinion. It's a very moving play about intimacy and loneliness, which I also think we have a lot of out there."