Seen on Broadway: Liev Schreiber’s frenzied, slashing performance is the best reason to see Eric Bogosian’s off Broadway hit Talk Radio, which, now more than ever, is a one-person show that has little need for the other people in it. Making its Broadway debut at the Longacre, Talk Radio casts Schreiber as Barry Champlain, a DJ at the dawn of the talk format whose ranting disgust for his clueless, sometimes bonkers, listeners and the declining state of America is only slightly exceeded by his own self-hatred as his Cleveland-based program is readied for national exposure. The second best reason to experience it is Richard Woodbury’s startlingly precise sound design, which seamlessly conveys at least three different environments. There is Barry at work, working the mic and heckling his callers; Barry getting off his headphones to yell at his co-workers; and Barry leaving the soundstage to go backstage for a few lines of cocaine. It’s an understatement to say that Barry’s life is not a particularly happy one, but it’s thrilling to experience Schreiber’s adrenaline rush for 100 minutes, and with Woodbury’s invaluable assistance raising and lowering the levels from scene to scene he punches every situation across with manic verve, under Robert Falls’ direction.
Mark Wendland’s set, with walls whose soundproofed padding would not be inappropriate for an asylum, could easily be rented out to a would-be radio producer once the run has ended. Laura Bauer’s costumes are spot-on, particularly the punk get-up for Kent (Sebastian Stan), a jittery junkie caller whose late appearance at the show throws it into further chaos. Christopher Akerlind’s well-suited lighting is largely institutional in effect, with its star turn providing the color. [Hudson Scenic built the set, Hudson Sound and Light provided the lights, and Sound Associates the sound.] Now a fixture on the airwaves, the talk radio concept adapted itself to TV and has morphed onto the web, but the level of discourse, alas, remains pretty much the same.
Like Talk Radio, I had only previously experienced Prelude to a Kiss as a film, which had a boringly naturalistic design. Back on Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, the play has been given a somewhat more ethereal look, but I’m not sure it fully works, either. Craig Lucas’ play is a strange but beguiling show, tracing the fast courtship and marriage of microfiche clerk Peter (Alan Tudyk) to commitment-phobe Rita (Annie Parisse). On their Jamaican honeymoon, Peter can’t help but notice that Rita has become surlier and more assertive, not the person he thought he had married. He’s right; thanks to a kiss she shared with an old man (John Mahoney) at their wedding, Rita has somehow absorbed his personality, while hers has gone into his increasingly frail frame. A more adult twist on the body-switch movie comedies that were popular when they play was written, like 1988’s Big, Kiss has also been read as a fable about the AIDS crisis, where young men were suddenly forced to confront the mortality of their dying partners.
Daniel Sullivan’s direction ratchets up the darkness inherent in the material, which is capably enacted by the two leads but exceedingly so but Mahoney (a failure of the piece, which is right to skimp on the supernatural specifics of the switch, is that he doesn’t get a more proper sendoff). Santo Loquasto’s set is puzzling—intimidating steel girders under which the vignettes (a bar, a wedding scene, etc.) move, conveyor-belt style, from scene to scene. It’s utilitarian rather than magical, something that would only work for a harder-edged piece. Donald Holder’s colorful lights dress it up with star curtains, twinkling fixtures that descend, and occasional bold hues but don’t add as much sparkle as the light side of the show requires. Jane Greenwood’s costumes and John Gromada’s sound have an easier time rooting the show somewhere specific. [Great Lakes Scenic Studio built the scenery, Scenic Technologies gets it moving, PRG provided the lights, and Sound Associates the audio.] This is a quirky, Twilight Zone comedy-drama not so easily placed on an assembly line for us to look at.
Seen Off Broadway: About the last thing I expected to see from the LAByrinth Theatre Company, which is best known for high-octane, tough-minded pieces like Our Lady of 121st Street, was a low-key romantic comedy. But don’t be fooled by the drugs, despair, and hookah pipes—that’s what Bob Glaudini’s shambling Jack Goes Boating, which is playing at the Public Theatre’s Martinson Hall, is. Company co-artistic director Philip Seymour Hoffman returns to the theater as Jack, a lumpen New York limo driver who is inching his way into a relationship with the fretful Connie (Beth Cole), a mortician’s assistant who is as unlucky in love as she is in everything else. When Connie suggests that she might enjoy a rowing excursion once the harsh winter ends, Jack’s best friend, Clyde (company co-artistic director John Ortiz) teaches him to swim, with Clyde’s live-in girlfriend, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), getting Jack some cooking lessons to make him a better-rounded person. But the undercurrents of resentment and jealousy in Clyde and Lucy’s relationship, which boil to the surface at a cocaine-fueled dinner party, threaten to rock the boat for Jack and Connie.
Peter DuBois, who directed the Public’s stylish farce Measure for Pleasure last season, has a looser grip here. He almost, but not quite, lets the actors (costumed offhandedly, or in the case of Jack, downright slovenly, by Mimi O’Donnell) indulge in tics and mannerisms that stop short of embarrassment and instead register as affecting and appealing. The material, which, in the manner of films by John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh, has an air of improvisation about it, gets a tremendous boost from David Korins’ multifaceted set. Most of the show takes place in Clyde and Lucy’s wholly realistic apartment, but there are side panels that open up to create very cleverly a number of different environments, from a subway stop to the driver’s seat of a limousine. A judicious use of curtains helps establish Connie’s living space, but the best synthesis of the set, and Japhy Weideman’ lighting design and David Van Tieghem’s sound design, is the pool—there is no liquid onstage, but you’d be fooled, given how convincingly the actors pantomime the motions, the tiled backdrop resembles an urban oasis, the projections mimic the play of waves, and the audio generates splashes. [PRG provided the lights and Ins & Outs Inc. the audio.] The characters in Jack Goes Boating find themselves in rough seas but thanks to an uncanny design effort the water’s fine.
I appreciate an intermissionless 90-minute play that cuts out the fat but Christopher Shinn’s Dying City also removes the lean, leaving little but a thin gristle of substance. Like Prelude to a Kiss this is another, more naturalistic twist on the body-switch concept, and, like Talk Radio, it stars a Schreiber—Liev’s younger, even taller, sibling, Pablo. When we first meet him, he is Peter, a mercurial gay actor who is a less-than-welcome guest at the New York apartment of his sister-in-law, Kelly (Rebecca Brooksher). Kelly is vacating the apartment, which she shared with her deceased soldier husband, Craig, who has been killed in the Iraq War. Peter exits, and the next time we see him reenters as Craig, in scenes that take place a year earlier. It soon becomes clear that the twin brothers, though different in outlook and philosophy, are, or have been, double trouble for Kelly, and that she needs to exorcise them (literally and figuratively) to move on with her own life.
To keep everything transparent in this Lincoln Center Theatre production, directed by James Macdonald, the Mitzi E. Newhouse has been configured for an in-the-round presentation. The platform stage, sparsely decorated with a TV, a couch, and a few moving boxes scattered on and off the set by Anthony Ward, executes a complete, slow turn during the show, so that, metaphorically speaking, we can see all the angles—but the war is just a hook to hang a slight, vaguely misanthropic show on. Ward’s costumes, Pat Collins’ even lighting, and Aural Fixation’s clearly defined sound design are all suited for this chilly, unembraceable production. [Flying Diamond built the set, Hyde Power Systems provided the automation, PRG the lights, and Masque Sound the audio.] But once it was clear that the set, and not the show, was the only thing that was going to be in motion, I was more interested in The Daily Show clips that were playing on Kelly’s TV.—Robert Cashill