When Eve Ensler was a guest on "Theater Talk" earlier this year, the animated discourse that ensued between author of The Vagina Monologues and co-host Michael Riedel sparked an outcry among some viewers. Riedel, the theater columnist for the New York Post and a self-described "conservative Republican," sparred with the playwright and women's activists over her Obie-winning collection of stories about women and their bodies.
"I was coming at it from the right-wing angle, and she gave it right back to me," Riedel, 33, remembers. "It was fun and we became friendly about it. But some of the viewers were absolutely appalled."
As a result of the encounter, the "Theater Talk" phone line recorded what Riedel describes as "the best angry calls" the show ever received, including one message from someone promising to punch the journalist if he ever encountered him. It's an anecdote Riedel shares with a sense of pride, since that's precisely the type of rambunctious debate he and co-host and executive producer Susan Haskins aim to incite on this weekly PBS theater show, seen in New York on WNET Channel 13 as well as in Boston and Hartford, Connecticut.
"I so often disagree with Michael, but I see the strength of having a little controversy," says Haskins, 50, who regularly comes across as the more compassionate of the duo, comparing "Theater Talk" to CNN's high-spirited political debate show "Crossfire." "It made it more interesting than if I'd been interviewing [Ensler] and gone, 'Oh, sisterhood, here we are.'"
With that experience as something of a prelude, the edition of "Theater Talk" that Haskins and Riedel will tape on March 13 at the CUNY TV studio in Manhattan may well be akin to "The McLaughlin Group" times two. Riedel and Haskins have assembled a panel of six authorities from a cross section of the theater world to tackle a colossal topic: "The State of Theater, 2000."
Taking part are Roundabout Theatre artistic director Todd Haimes, Side Man playwright Warren Leight, New York Times theater columnist Jesse McKinley, commercial producer Daryl Roth (Wit), New York magazine critic John Simon, and 1776 and Titanic book writer Peter Stone.
And, for the first time, a studio audience will be able to talk right back to hosts and guests. The public can also purchase tickets for the taping, which will benefit the not-for-profit program.