Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio is an inside look at the narcissism of late night talk-show host Barry Champlain (played by the talented Alex Champlin) on fictional Cleveland radio station WTLK, and the spiritual void of his callers.The show opens at the end of a call-in business show hosted by Sid Greenberg, (Kat Letwin in a bright yellow, shoulder-padded blazer). This taste of the 80s is one of the great technical achievements of the show. As Letwin leaves the stage, the “Night Talk” crew arrives: ex-hippie producer Pam Noonan (Emma Baasch), station manager Dan Woodruff (Andre Havrylyshyn), and Barry’s assistant and sometimes lover, Linda MacArthur (Sophie Patterson).
Finally, Barry himself arrives. Champlin exudes his characteristic presence. His performance, however, took 30 minutes to really take off. While Champlin may be the most talented actor currently at U of T, this show, unfortunately, does not deliver his full potential. There are moments when his natural ability shines through, usually in the acerbic comments he makes to callers, but the character of Barry off the air was not differentiated enough to make the character as compelling as it could have been. This has more to do with the direction Champlin received than a deficiency in his talent— the entire show felt overacted. The tortured, dissatisfied Barry I had been waiting to see for the entire show finally comes out to full effect during his final monologue.As the show progresses, each character turns to the audience and tells of their relationship to Barry. Havrylyshyn delivers a naturalistic monologue that represents some of his best work, and was one of the few moments in the show that wasn’t overacted. Patterson, who was the brightest light of the whole show, constantly caught the audience’s attention with her superb “on-air” reactions to callers and her chemistry with Champlin.The callers were another high point: Pippa Leslie, Alex Rubin, and Mika Rekai mastered the Midwestern accent, and demonstrated great timing in their delivery. Their timing reflected what I thought the mood of the show should be: understated absurdity. The script is such that if all the characters were to take themselves seriously, the overall comedic effect would be great.First-time director Tim Lindsay’s strong technical background was evident with good overall design work. He lacked the same prowess in his direction. The sound design by Lindsay and TCDS veteran Emma McKee was a huge compliment to the show, especially the pre-recorded callers. Both Champlin and the sound operator made this challenging idea work very well, and the audience never knew if the callers were live or pre-recorded. Lindsay made a very respectable showing for a first-timer, but the show could have benefited from a seasoned assistant director to work exclusively on character development. Lindsay should have trusted that the show is funny in itself, without pushing the actors to overdo it. That being said, taking into account that the whole show was produced in about a month, Talk Radio is a solid piece of theatre.