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Hell Is Other People: Liev Schreiber in Talk Radio

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Hell Is Other People: Liev Schreiber in Talk Radio

It’s a rare actor who can convey self-awareness without seeming self-conscious. Liev Schrieber has that gift, and he’s employed it throughout a still-young career that has often cast him as men who brazenly invent a persona (RKO 281) or else struggle to escape one imposed by outside forces (The Manchurian Candidate, the Scream films). The new Broadway production of Eric Bogosian’s 1987 performance piece Talk Radio—about self-loathing provocateur Barry Champlain, who alternately reassures and taunts listeners of his call-in program—is a perfect marriage of performer and role.

The nature of the play tamps down Schreiber’s broad-shouldered physicality, but it foregrounds another of his signature traits, his precisely modulated bass voice. For maybe two-thirds of the play’s running time, he’s seated at a desk behind a microphone, bantering with (or insulting) callers and ranting about political corruption and cultural decay. In this context, Schreiber seems not merely confined, but constrained for the audience’s safety; accordingly, rather than explode, Barry implodes. The spectacle is at once horrifying, satisfying and oddly poignant, like a small-scale, AM radio version of a Shakespeare tragedy in which a man is destroyed by the same qualities that lifted him to prominence. Along the way, Schreiber mines the vein of malignant magnetism that Jack Nicholson tapped in Five Easy Pieces and Carnal Knowledge, infusing sophomorically cutting insults with an “all in a day’s work” straightforwardness. (When Schreiber tells a cat-obsessed dork, “Stop hanging around the pussy and go get some,” the line’s tossed-off cadence tells us Barry knows just what he’s doing—inviting listeners to groove on his alpha dog swagger—but is way past feeling any sense of triumph.)

Like Bogosian’s performance in Oliver Stone’s film version of Talk Radio, Schreiber doesn’t just invite you to cheer Barry’s cartoonishly confident aggression and make you feel guilty for cheering and grateful for a fleeting moment when Barry makes an authentic connection with a caller (the exchange is devastatingly well-played here by Schreiber, a naturally warm actor whose roles tend to suppress that quality). Through body language and vocal modulations, Schreiber continuously but subtly reminds you that Barry’s on-air persona is false—a joint effort between Barry and his longtime producer, Dan (Peter Hermann); and that between the blathering of sycophants and dolts, the sinister taunts of an anti-semite and the bottom-line pressure of his show going national, Barry’s already crumbling facade is bound to collapse—and that Barry, being Barry, will deliver the final hammer blows himself. This version goes way beyond Bogosian and Stone’s in drawing parallels between Barry’s self-delusion and that of his callers and the competitive, greedy, easily-distracted nation they all inhabit. The film was a dynamic character sketch and a sideways lament for lost 1960s passion, about a righteous left-wing truth-teller who’d succumbed to the lures of power and ego but retained shards of his old fearlessness and could rouse himself to swing them against bigots and morons who deserved to get cut. Stone and Bogosian suggested, particularly in the flashbacks, that Barry was once an idealist—or at least a person of real human potential, a man not nearly as cynical, alienated and hollow as the present-tense version. But in Falls and Schreiber’s rendition, Barry is more of an enigma—not a man who lost touch with his true nature, but who never had one; a man who in some sense does not exist unless he’s feeding on the fears and fantasies of others—people whose own personalities are themselves constructed, artificial, fragile. Not having seen other stage productions, I can’t say if this one represents an alternative vision of Bogosian’s work or a restoration of its pre-movie intent. Either way, it’s electrifying. In Barry Champlain’s head, in his studio, in his city, in his nation, there’s no There there; although he huffs and puffs about the outrages of his time and savages listeners for not caring, Barry’s packaged brand of provocation is the continuation of escapism by other means—the verbal version of a tranquilizer that looks like an amphetamine. (An overheard snippet of ad copy promises, “Dormex lets you empty your mind.”)

There’s so much to like here that the play’s creakier elements—one-dimensional supporting characters, plentiful references to once-recent political events, and some cornball direct address monologues by supporting characters that interrupt the story’s forward motion to hang labels on Barry’s neuroses—are more distracting than they would be in a merely competent version. (When Barry’s assistant and sometime lover, Linda—played by Stephanie March—says that during their first night together, he was “like a drowning man trying to get on a life raft,” a razor-wire play suddenly turns into an outtake from Studio 60.) But these flaws don’t dull an otherwise brilliant (and unsettling) effort. Barry Champlain’s being and nothingness are reflected in the audience he cultivates and abuses. If, as Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people,” Barry’s show is a live feed from the underworld. There is no exit.

For information on the Longacre Theater’s production of Talk Radio, which opened March 11 and runs through June, click here. For more on the movie version of Talk Radio, read House contributor Aaron Aradillas’s article “Oliver Stone: Natural Born Filmmaker, Part 1”.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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