JOHN NATHAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THEATRE Talk Ra­dio

The Old Red Lion

ERIC BOGOSIAN’S Pulitzer-nom­i­nated play of 1987 came out of the mur­der of shock jock Alan Berg who was shot dead in his Den­ver drive-way by a mem­ber of white su­prem­a­cist group The Or­der, who had com­piled a list of prom­i­nent Jews to mur­der. You prob­a­bly didn’t have to be a rag­ing Nazi to want to kill Berg. He per­fected the phone-in tech­nique of in­sult­ing call­ers and then cut­ting them off. Still, he did have a tal­ent for flush­ing out prej­u­dice and, be­ing a Jew, es­pe­cially an­ti­semitism.

That big­otry is re­vealed here in one ter­rif­i­cally tense scene in which Texan caller Chad rails against Night Talk host and “Is­rael mouth­piece” Barry Cham­plain (Bogosian’s ver­sion of Berg), ex­cel­lently played here with a com­bustible mix of ego­tism and self-loathing by Matthew Jure. Chad has sent Barry a present which, while live on air, he tells the ra­dio host is a bomb. The pack­age is sit­ting next to Barry in the sound proof cube from which he broad­casts.

Max Dorey’s de­sign of the stu­dio is ut­terly con­vinc­ing. The di­a­logue be­tween Barry and his col­leagues on the other side of the glass is con­ducted via mi­cro­phones and speak­ers, a tri­umph of tech­ni­cal prob­lem-solv­ing. Then there is the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge of Barry’s nu­mer­ous call­ers, which, un­less this pub theatre has a back room filled with 13 off-stage ac­tors ready to step up to the mic on cue, must have all been pre-recorded. Yet Jure times the live half of th­ese ex­changes to per­fec­tion. I men­tion all this sim­ply be­cause it’s worth dwelling on just how am­bi­tious a tiny pub theatre can be.

Sean Turner’s pretty fault­less pro­duc­tion only dips where Bogosian’s script in­dulges in a some­what man­nered at­tempt to ex­pand on Barry’s re­la­tion­ship with his as­sis­tant Linda (Molly McNer­ney). Else­where, it un­flinch­ingly bur­rows into the psy­che of Barry and his call­ers, their fears and prej­u­dices.

This is the 30th an­niver­sary pro­duc­tion of Bogosian’s play. The au­thor went on to play the role not only on stage but in the film ver­sion di­rected by Oliver Stone. Yet the sur­prise is that this re­vival de­liv­ers much more than a nos­tal­gic whiff of ’80s Amer­ica. When Bogosian’s Barry riffs on the dys­func­tion of the so­ci­ety he broad­casts to, it feels as if he is talk­ing much more about to­day and Trump’s Amer­ica than yes­ter­day and Ron­ald Rea­gan’s. Be­cause, de­spite Berg’s mur­der, talk of Nazis was gen­er­ally late-night phone-in fare back then.

Now they march through Amer­i­can streets — a seem­ingly un­end­ing trail of burning torches and Jew-hat­ing in­tent. And the cli­mate of fear in which Barry pon­tif­i­cates on pae­dophiles and ter­ror­ism is more height­ened to­day than it has ever been.

So you leave the theatre with a dis­con­cert­ing sense that Barry is more prophet than a talk-show host, and that sub­jects that were once con­fined to the ex­tremes of the broad­cast­ing sched­ules be­cause they ex­isted only on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety, are now part of the ev­ery­day.

Nazi talk was late night phonein fare in the 1980s

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