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Talking Points

March 15, 2007 By:
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Sound bite: Liev Schreiber
More than 20 years after "Talk Radio" proved the talk of the town -- plugging into national paranoia as a powerful performance piece -- playwright Eric Bogosian's voice of America is broadcasting from Broadway. Yet still, the hurt and healing that first attended the 1985 production in Portland, Ore. -- and later, when it went off and running off-Broadway -- is still bending air waves with the bias and bilge that contemporary talk-radio channels.

With Liev Schreiber leaving his imprint now on stage at the Lonagacre Theatre as the live broadcaster with a deadened soul and dead-end perspective who spits out sputum with sprays of acrimony that accost the ears, "Talk Radio" radically proves that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Bogosian's piece controls the knob on communal communication that sounds like so much static; funny, how even in digital times, hate is as indigestible as ever before.

Somehow, progress has not pre-empted prejudice from pervading the national consciousness.

Champing at the mike like a race-baiting bit in his mouth, Schreiber's Barry Champlain is a champion of chump change in this country. With his polemics of pain, is the cigarette smokestack of a sad sack the cancer or the cure? Are the radio waves he makes important or impervious to social meaning?

"Talk Radio" does have its talking points: A reflection of the real-life live wire that was '80s Alan Berg, a talk-show shaman whose Yom Kippur crapshoot of an invitation to listeners to call in and take their best shots at Jews led to his being shot himself by a member of the Aryan Order, "Talk Radio" speaks of Berg's off-the-wall industry offsprings, who use hate as a star-spangled banner to turn their listeners red, white and blue in the face.

Flag the furor that erupts during a broadcast, the set piece for the serious radio discussion with its satellite of speakers: Such a scene infuses the frightening, smoke-filled smackdown in which an offstage listener goads Champlain with a verbal kick to the gonads.

A caller calling into question the ethnicity of the name Champlain hits all the preset buttons that the host hides from his alternately adoring/admonishing acolytes.

Or Was It Once Chomsky?

Champlain chain-smokes a defense of his Jewish roots by wrapping himself in the flag; but this flag is swastika-stained, swaying in the air as a gruesome gargoyle, a feral force to be reckoned with -- and a reminder that the ashen-faced Champlain will always be just a goose-step away from the ashes no matter the moniker he now uses.

Talk is not cheap, but unfiltered venom cheapens the human experience. For anyone who thinks that modern-day technology can mitigate the mendacities of unsophisticated and uneducated idiocies spilling out pell-mell from speakers on a soap box awash in lies, that it can let the sunshine in and chase away the clouds ... you've been handed a snow job of a forecast.

And those who hope that the space has closed in on specious arguments of those with claustrophobic closets for brains have only to log on to lunacy; cyberspace has only opened the door for those with spiked rage in their MySpace of in-your-face rants and raves.

The answer? Reign in the terror of trash-mouthed tyrants? That would be tyranny of a different kind.

As "Talk Radio" shows -- saying nothing new, but still offering something needed to be said -- hatred has a history with us all. With today's technological advancements, speech-pattern identification may be the most base of them all.

Because what you say in the safety of a closed room -- or as a disembodied voice on a radio -- can speak volumes for what you really feel.

And are. 

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