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Queens Chronicle

Bringing ‘Talk Radio’ to the stage once again

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Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2014 10:30 am

Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist when it had its off-Broadway premiere in 1987, made it to Broadway some 20 years later in a well-received production that starred Liev Schreiber.

It is now being given a rare local performance by the Variations Theatre Group at The Chain Theatre in Long Island City.

The show is set in a studio in Cleveland, from which radio talk show host Barry Champlain broadcasts his interactive program.

While the play is a comedy, it is also much darker than one might anticipate.

The current incarnation runs a tight, 100 minutes, with the focus nearly constantly on its protagonist, a rude, provocative and controversial personality.

The play maintains its freshness due in large part to its exploration of the modern obsession with disembodied advice and conversation.

Champlain, played with unwavering focus by the group’s co-artistic director, Kirk Gostkowski, is a complex character. He is egomaniacal, contemptuous in his dealings with his callers and as screwed up as most of them. His many shadings must all become clear within a single, potentially life-changing broadcast, the time covered in the play. It is not an easy feat to pull off.

But Gostkowski, who, from certain angles, is physically reminiscent of Schreiber, is up to the task, and remains in charge from start to finish. He smokes, drinks, sweats, swears and carries on multiple conversations seemingly simultaneously. As the radio show is Champlain’s, this play belongs to the actor portraying him.

That is not to imply that this is a one-man show, a genre in which Bogosian has gained considerable acclaim. There are several other characters who make their presence felt, even if some are not actually seen until the final curtain call.

Among those who make appearances are the producer, Dan Woodruff, embodied by Timothy J. Cox; and two co-workers, Linda, Champlain’s former lover, played by Christina Perry, and Stu, Champlain’s long-time friend, played by a natural Patrick Pizzolorusso, both of whom Champlain has all but completely cut out of his life.

Each of the three has a moment to shine in a monologue that offers additional insights into Champlain’s character.

Interestingly, it is the unseen callers who are among the most memorable personalities.

A small group of actors provides the varied voices splendidly.

Perhaps best of all is Gordon Palagi, as Kent, a young stoner who shares with Champlain and his listeners a harrowing story about his girlfriend and, near the end of the play, actually appears at the studio, skateboard in tow and fingernails polished, where he has a profound effect on the host.

Completing the ensemble cast are Lauren Allison, Kelly Jean Clair, Rebecca Hoodwin, Mark A. Keeton, Peter Osterweil and Doug Shapiro.

Under the astute direction of Greg Cicchino, the play remains gripping throughout. Though confined to a radio studio, the movement never feels restricted.

Because of the small size of the theater, the audience becomes involved in the action, sometimes with actors addressing the spectators directly.

The production designer, Aaron Gonzalez, has devised a simple but realistic setting, complete with changing skyline backdrops and prop Mantovani records.

The sound design, by Greg Russ, seamlessly incorporates the voices of the host, the callers, various commercials and other aspects of a broadcast.

“Talk Radio”
When: Nightly, 8 p.m., except Wed.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 27
Where: The Chain Theatre, 21-28 45 Road, LIC

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