[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, December 6, 2018.]
The countdown clocks are everywhere at the Belasco Theatre these days. Whether on a screen or presented verbally by characters playing TV technicians or embodied by main characters playing veteran newsmen and newswomen, digital drives Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film Network. The design almost overwhelms the story.
Network is a story about story: how televised events can attract huge audiences and kill talent and lives, and how corporate power-plays affected broadcast news circa 1976. Howard Beale, played by craggy, mesmerizing Bryan Cranston, is at the tail end of his career and about to be canned. He announces his decision to kill himself, on air, on his final day, some two weeks hence. His old friend, Max Schumacher — played by a stolid, fit Tony Goldwyn, not seeming old enough to play “corporate establishment” — is forced to fire Howard while fearing his own growing irrelevance. Meantime, Diana Christensen, in the form of the electric Tatiana Maslany, is a youngish program developer (played by Faye Dunaway in the film, winning her an Oscar), who skirts the ethical edges with instincts for what, today, we call reality TV. In the not-so-cherished tradition of TV broadcasting, she starts an affair with Max. “We’re not in the business of morality,” Diana tells him. “We are in the business of business.”
It falls to the strong, evocative Alyssa Bresnahan, in the role of Max’s patient and wise homemaker wife, Louise, to deliver one of the best monologues ever written about the grasp-at-life sexual affairs of men in midlife when she confronts Max about the affair. But here’s what I mean about design, and the staging by Ivo van Hove, nearly overwhelming the story This confrontation scene may be most powerful for those of us who know it from the film and, going in, hoped it hadn’t been cut. It’s not, but in von Hove’s staging, it takes place partly upstage and partly on film, compromising the immediacy of the live performance yet never quite packing a cinematic wallop.
And then Howard takes his ravings just a step too far, and Max finally realizes that Diana is pure business and no soul; soon, she hits a program development wall with her corporate superiors. Chayefsky’s grey-toned universe is one we live in, 40-plus years later. And van Hove doesn’t trust us to see that on our own.