Talking Man

Special Features   Talking Man
 
As Talk Radio preps for its Broadway premiere, Eric Bogosian looks back at the origins of his scathing 1987 portrait of a gonzo radio host.
Eric Bogosian
Eric Bogosian

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It's fortunate for Eric Bogosian that Liev Schreiber isn't the type to hold a grudge. In 2005, the solo artist-turned-playwright visited Schreiber backstage at the Jacobs Theatre to compliment him on his Tony Award–winning performance as Richard Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross. "He told me how he auditioned for my play subUrbia" in 1994, relates Bogosian with a rueful groan, "and how cold and unfeeling I was at the audition."

But no hard feelings. Proof? Schreiber stars as shock jock Barry Champlain in this month's Broadway premiere of Talk Radio. The production (at the Longacre Theatre) also marks the Broadway debut of Bogosian, a name long synonymous with dark-hued downtown theatre. Jeffrey Richards, who is producing Radio — the tale of a fire-breathing, liberal radio host who eats callers to nourish his shaky self-esteem — also produced Glengarry. "Jeffrey put the notion in my head that there could be a revival and it could be on Broadway," says the author. "I never really thought of my stuff as Broadway material."

Times Square was the address furthest from Bogosian's mind when Richards came calling. "A year ago, things were pretty much at stasis," says the man who made his name with hard-living solo pieces like Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll. "I was writing another novel; that had been my retreat into my hut in the forest. I was annoyed at having five Off-Broadway hits and not getting anything produced in the city. So I thought, I'll write my novel and go to yoga class. Now, subUrbia was revived Off-Broadway and Talk Radio is being done, and then I got this job on 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent.' All of a sudden I've become very busy, which I love."

Bogosian was the original Barry when the play premiered at Joseph Papp's Public Theater in 1987. The title already had resonance at the time, but no one could then foresee how (primarily conservative) talk radio would come to dominate the political landscape during the 1990's. "As I was writing it, talk radio became influential," recalls Bogosian. "Out of that came Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern's crazy career. It's all spanned the period since this play first came out. This play lives in a world where talk radio hasn't made such an impact yet. It's one night in Cleveland in 1987." Unsurprisingly, Bogosian is no fan of the masters of the radio dial. He finds the liberal advocates of Air America insufficiently entertaining and their conservative counterparts morally repugnant. (In his opinion, The Hague would do well to open a docket on Limbaugh.) "Talking about really important, substantial issues and turning it into a circus is part of the way we dialogue about the most important things in our lives today."

(Robert Simonson is Playbill.com's senior correspondent.)

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