Eric Bogosian
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Eric Bogosian
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Eric Bogosian is the first one to admit it wasn't his idea to bring his blistering 1987 Off-Broadway hit Talk Radio, about an acerbic radio talk show host named Barry Champlain, to the Great White Way. So how did it happen that the show begins previews on February 15 at the Longacre Theatre, under the direction of Tony Award winner Robert Falls?

"It was a happy coincidence," he says. "Because I had done the TV film of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, they invited me to the opening of the Broadway revival last spring. At the party, I was talking to Jeffrey Richards, who produced that show, and he asked me what I thought about having the show on Broadway. I told him to let me think about it. I also knew that I didn't want to play Barry, like I did back then."

As Bogosian recalls, when he and Richards talked a few days later, they almost simultaneously proposed the same actor for Barry: Liev Schreiber, who had won the Tony Award for playing Ricky Roma in Richards' revival of Glengarry Glen Ross. "The first thing I thought was that the play's lead needed to be an actor who has a dark streak in him, and that deep down, you sense there's a mystery about what makes this guy tick," says Bogosian. "To say Barry is intense is an understatement. But what's lovely about watching Liev play him is that the anger is right there at his discretion, but he doesn't overwhelm us with that emotion. The play was originally tailored to my strengths and weaknesses, and Liev is a much better actor than I am. But I am so delighted to see that he inhabits every line."

By and large, the lines the audience will hear at the Longacre are the same ones uttered at the Public Theater in 1987. "Of course, I'm tweaking the script," says Bogosian."It's like going under the hood of a vintage car and changing some parts so it works better. But I don't expect anyone to notice the difference from the outside. I never really thought about making major changes. So much has changed in the world of talk radio since 1987 that it really wasn't possible."

Bogosian admits he actually wasn't much of a radio listener back in those days -- he used the medium to make a point about the media in general. "I wanted to write this character who extended himself to the breaking point to get ratings, and then finds himself painted into a corner. That happens to a lot of people who try to find a following, like comedians," says Bogosian.

"I also thought that I'd be writing a play for theater companies who wanted to do something different than Ibsen. The live calls onstage are dramatically different than many plays, and so is the basic stagecraft, because Barry faces the audience the whole time, and he's reacting to these callers -- people who can't see him and vice versa. So there's three layers of reality. I like to keep things interesting."

Even Bogosian was a bit surprised when Hollywood came calling almost immediately, in the person of Oscar winner Oliver Stone, who helmed the film version of Talk Radio with Bogosian in the lead. "It's very different than the play," he says. "Much of the movie was lifted from the life of Alan Berg [the controversial radio personality who had been murdered in 1984]. We bought the rights to his story and some of it was too good not to use."

In addition to Schreiber, the show's cast features Peter Hermann in the role of producer Dan Woodruff and Stephanie March as Linda MacArthur. The pair are old friends, having worked together on the NBC series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (which stars Hermann's wife, Mariska Hargitay). In addition, March appeared in Bogosian's early play Griller and was featured in Falls' 1999 Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, which was her last stage appearance.

"I think they needed a blonde, and they knew me, and so that was it," says March about her casting, with a laugh. "It helps so much to work with all these people I've worked with before. To know I'm sharing the stage with this top-notch group of kind, professional people makes me feel much better about coming back to Broadway."

Peter Hermann
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Peter Hermann
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Hermann, who last appeared on Broadway in 2001 in Judgment at Nuremberg, is thrilled to be given this opportunity, especially given his long fascination with the show's author. "I used to have this tape recording of Eric's solo piece, Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll that I would listen to all the time on my Walkman, so I'm very honored to be bringing his voice to the stage."

But above all, it's the actual material that excites Hermann. "I think the piece has been described as 'this quilt of insanity' about the late 1980s," he says. "It allows us to look at how the country talked about itself and to examine what has changed in this country since then," he says. "It's also an incredible look at how we decide if something is entertaining. Our criteria about whether we decide to tune into something, on radio or television, isn't about whether it's useful or if it's going to change our life in any meaningful way. I think Dan is incredibly sinister, and I personally find people like him, who I know from my TV work, to be a problematic force in our society."

To prepare for the part, Hermann has been listening to today's brand of talk radio, which he finds a rather bewildering form of entertainment. "It's this strange mix of vitriol and verbal abuse that goes out over the airwaves for everyone to hear," he says. "It's great that people want to argue about things that matter; but these people call in knowing they're going to get abused. I am not sure where that impulse comes from, but it definitely fascinates me."