When it comes to Network, Howard Beale’s cry of rage—“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”—is most quoted, but it is a line from his producer, the all-business TV executive Diana Christensen, that may resonate more in 2018. “All I want out of life,” she says at one point in the 1976 classic, “is a 30 share and a 20 rating.”
Faye Dunaway won an Oscar for her memorably icy performance as Diana (as did Peter Finch, posthumously, as Howard Beale) in the movie about a TV network and its slow slide from just the facts, ma’am to bombastic, personality-driven news shows. Now both roles are embodied on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre by Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and Emmy and Tony Award winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, All the Way). But this isn’t your typical film-to-stage adaptation. The movie, a terrifyingly prescient satire of news as bloodthirsty entertainment, is being staged by Ivo van Hove, the mastermind behind radically rethought revivals of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge and The Crucible.
The movie stayed with van Hove over the years, though with some caveats. “It was a great movie with all these great, fabulous character actors,” he says during a break in rehearsals. “But at the same time, the story was over the top. This can never happen, this is total science fiction!” Flash forward to the 21st century, and suddenly “it’s our reality we’re living today,” van Hove says. “And this was even before Trump. I was already thinking about doing it before the 2016 election.”
Adapted by Lee Hall, the script remains firmly rooted in the 1970s but, as anyone who has seen van Hove’s physically extraordinary work can attest, time periods can be as mutable as truth. “The Gerald Ford attacks, Patty Hearst, all these things are mentioned in the text,” he says. “The images you see are historically correct on the screens, but for me it makes no sense to make a production about the ’70s. It has to be about the times we’re living in. [Screenwriter Paddy] Chayefsky wrote this visionary piece of material about the loss of values in society. And the metaphor for that is a [TV] network you see shift from a neutral nightly news show into infotainment, where news becomes important for ratings. The message is not the most important thing; the package is.”
And that package is even harder to escape in the stage version than in the film. First produced to rapturous reviews in the West End (where Cranston won an Olivier Award playing the role of the newscaster turned messianic figure), the theatre becomes an immersive experience in which the news is constantly blaring. Van Hove’s frequent collaborator, Jan Versweyveld, again contributes lighting and scenic design. There is even an onstage dining experience (by Sweeney Todd real-life pie baker and former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses) available to interested theatregoers. All of which adds up to a memorable, if disturbing, night that may make you reconsider how you consume the news in your everyday life.