Eric Bogosian originally wrote the role of Barry Champlain, the abrasive late-night talk radio host, for himself. He played Champlain at the Public in 1987, and then a year later starred in the (extremely rapidly adapted and not very well received) film version of Talk Radio directed by Oliver Stone.
For this first Broadway production of the play — Bogosian’s first Broadway production of anything — he offered the leading role to Liev Schreiber, who absolutely kills as the agitated and obnoxious live radio personality. The play takes place the night of the last local taping of “Night Talk with Barry Champlain” before it airs nationally. This particular night, the show gets far enough out of control that even Jack Daniels and chain smoking can’t ward off a dead-air-inducing existential crisis.
Mirroring Champlain’s show, which is based in no small part on extremity and voyeurism, Talk Radio invites the audience to witness the anti-hero’s self-destruction. Champlain, a character inspired by real life characters Alan Berg (a radio host shot by white nationalists) and Howard Stern, has the gift for radio. He lives for it, too. The trouble with that is, as Dan Woodruff (Peter Hermann), the host’s long-time producer and friend points out, now the show is all he has. Champlain struggles to find meaning in his life of caffeinated nights arguing with anti-Semites, insomniacs and teenagers. Schreiber is brilliantly endearing and self-effacing while maintaining that part of Champlain that is borderline pathetic and a total jackass.
There’s never been any doubt that Talk Radio is wonderfully written, but Bogosian’s best decision, and the real reason to see this show, is in the casting.