BY STEVEN J. FERRARI
The show may be set almost 30 years ago, but the message that resonates throughout “Talk Radio” is just as pertinent today as it was during the Me Decade of the 1980s.
The new show by Variations Theatre Group, on stage at the Chain Theatre in Long Island City, tells the tale of Barry Champlain, a Cleveland talk radio host, on the night he discovers that his show will soon be picked up nationwide. “Talk Radio” follows Champlain, played by Kirk Gostkowski, over the course of a two-hour broadcast where things slowly begin to unravel for him.
Written by playwright Eric Bogosian and inspired by the 1984 murder of shock jock Alan Berg, Champlain spends the show going back and forth not just with his coworkers but with a variety of off-the-wall characters who call in to harangue the host. Discussions run the gamut from politics to pets, a bomb scare and a drug-addled admirer appearing to join the host as he tries to finish the show.
Bogosian, a staple of the New York theatre scene, was nominated for a Pulitzer for the show.
In an intimate setting like the Chain Theatre, a small space that puts the audience just feet away from the characters as they interact, it is easy to be drawn in to the drama unfolding in front of you. Just a one-act play, the show’s 90 minute running time flies by. Several of the show’s characters – Champlain’s co-workers – address the audience in asides to give more insight into Champlain’s personality.
Gostkowski, who is on stage for most of the show, has an undeniable charisma and an impressive presence that easily captivates the audience. Champlain is a larger-than-life character and Gostkowski plays him with a swagger that would be familiar to many of the talking heads featured on radio and television. That swagger begins to fade as Champlain faces a series of increasingly volatile confrontations, and Gostkowski draws you in as the cracks in Champlain’s façade become more evident.
During a conversation with Gostkowski and the show’s director, Greg Cicchino, the pair told the Queens Tribune that Variations Theatre Group chose “Talk Radio” to capitalize on the buzz created by their previous show, “Hurlyburly,” another show set in the 1980s, also starring Gostkowski.
“We hit something with ‘Hurlyburly’ and we wanted to see if we could keep it going,” Gostkowski said.
The actor noted that the themes in the show were still relevant today and credited the playwrights in the 1980s for being daring.
“A lot of these guys kind of hit their stride writing about the present day, and it just happened to be in the 80s,” Cicchino said.
Variations Theatre Group’s production of “Talk Radio” will continue at the Chain Theatre, 21-28 45th Road in Long Island City, through Sept. 27. For information, or to purchase tickets, visit variationstheatregroup.com.
Reach Steven J. Ferrari at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 122, email firstname.lastname@example.org or @stevenferrari.