In the 1980s and early 1990s, the loud, opinionated voices of a slew of shock jocks ruled the radio waves — think names like Grease Man or Howard Stern. Eric Bogosian's play "Talk Radio" takes audiences directly into this bygone world, zooming in on the WTLK radio station during a live transmission of Night Talk With Barry Champlain on the evening the show auditions for a spot on national radio.
Actor Scott Wichmann, who will portray Champlain in 5th Wall Theatre's upcoming production, says that the show is, at heart, a story about connection, or lack thereof.
"It's really a snapshot of America and a moment in a man's life where he is about to gain everything while increasingly isolating himself from any genuine human connection," Wichmann explains.
He and Morrie Piersol, who directs this production, are teaming up again after working together on "I Am My Own Wife," last year and in 2006. The two enjoyed working together on that production and the decision to produce "Talk Radio" came out of a mutual desire to continue their partnership. It was Wichmann who suggested they tackle Bogosian.
"I had recently read 'Talk Radio' again after about 20 years," Wichmann says, "and I felt that there were some really relevant things there, even thirty years after the play made its debut."
"It's an interesting format. It's so unusual in the way it's constructed," Piersol adds. "You see the talk show host and hear all of the callers. That was really exciting to me from the standpoint of directing."
Wichmann says the format of the play means that the ensemble is critical to the show's success, and he sings the praises of his fellow cast members for this production.
"They play all the callers on Barry's show and do so with such precision and excellence that it really feels like a new person calling in each time," Wichmann says.
He says the play spoke to him because it seemed to echo the "wind tunnel of social media in 2019."
"When I read the play again, I thought 'Damn, "Talk Radio" is social media before social media,'" Wichmann says. "It explores the idea that even though everyone has something to say, the things we focus on aren't necessarily helpful or meaningful or particularly revolutionary."
Piersol agrees with Wichmann that, above all, this is a show about a failure to connect.
"For Barry Champlain, the lack of connection is consistent as the connection. He experiences both," Piersol says. "It gets to the heart of what talk radio is and isn't, and Barry Champlain ultimately comes to the conclusion that nobody out there really has anything to say, and that's a pretty significant conclusion for a talk radio host to come to."
5th Wall Theatre's "Talk Radio" runs from Jan. 10 through 26 at the Basement, 300 E. Broad St. Tickets cost $20 - $32. 5thwalltheatre.org.