Theater on the Edge
By Eric Bogosian
Directed by Allan Whitehead
Starring Marco DiGeogio
The only thing missing from this 1970’s radio station is the smell of burnt phenolic, stale cigarette smoke and desperation. We find ourselves at Cincinnati’s least powerful radio station, WTLK. They used to be Easy Listening and Ultra Boring, but now they are all talk and all edgy. Barry Champlain (DiGeorge) takes late night calls and deals with the wackos. Edgy is headed for the big time: the really big suits at Corporate want to license this talk show. Its Barry’s big chance, and he’s ready for it. Screening the calls we find Stu Noonan (Alex Jackson), he’s fights on the front lines of insanity vs. ratings. Role the intro, and the calls roll in. Women with cat issues. Men plugging Jesus. Right wingers with a hate for the Jews. Bleeding hearts with manifestos about nuclear power plants. Jesus freaks and lonely women. And then the good stuff. Punks with suicidal girlfriends, neo Nazis with bomb threats, ex-girl friends with regrets, they all call in to bare themselves publicly and anonymously. The DJ edits and deals with them all from a position of power granted by the “hang up” button, and the knowledge the suits are ready to put him in the big time. If only he can stand the heat…
True to TOTE’s mission statement , this show pulls no punches and makes no apologies. It’s discomforting, in your face and it easily pushes just past the wall of good taste. DiGeorge knows just how far he can push, and how to go just past that. He looks like Jonny Cash just before Fulsome Prison and drinks like him just after. Supporting him we meet a tough cast of regulars, led by the dazed and confused Kent (Adam Minossora). He calls in claiming his girlfriend overdosed, and Barry strings him along and accuses him of making the whole thing up. And would he please drag himself to the studio? Kent is a fan boy with a hair gel addiction and gives the show some vital comic relief. Down stage we see excellent acting from Linda McArthur as Elaitheia Quinn, Barry’s soon-to-get-dumped girlfriend and Alex Jackson as Stu Noonan, Barry’s longtime producer and kicking boy. And as to props and set design (Samantha DiGeorge) – they found a real cart machine and tapes, just like the ones I used in College Radio, the only thing missing here is that smell off radio desperation.
Today Talk Radio is just another genera along with easy listening, hip hop, and the glitzy top ten pop sound of autotune and plastic surgery. Radio was gutted by Reagan, Clear Channel, and lastly by the internet of “anything, any time.” Today that makes it nothing special. The saddest thing to me is no one notices it’s gone except for a few of us old hippies who loved the magic of radio for its weird denizen, low pay and God-like power to decide what gets played and what gets sold at the used record shop. Tune in, turn on, and stare at our collective belly button.