This production was scheduled March 22-24, 2024.

For a staged reading, the latest offering from By the Sea Productions in Morro Bay contains a great deal of action, and the cast really keeps their characters moving (when they aren’t sitting behind a radio station microphone).

The production is Talk Radio, and it is definitely more than just talk. Although there is a lot of that (along with shouting), as you might well expect from a play set in the radio studio of an ’80s shock jock à la Howard Stern. If you’ve never seen Eric Bogosian’s ode to what has nowadays become a staple of the airwaves, this is a great time to catch the play, which premiered off-Broadway in 1987, with a well-received production on Broadway in 2007.

With Abe Lincoln as Barry the shock jock, and a host of other “voices”—including that wonderful growl we’ve come to expect from BTSP veteran Russell Snow—Talk Radio is intriguing from lights up on a radio show in progress to lights out on another (with one intermission between its two acts). In between, the focus is on the incomparable Lincoln: sometimes ranting and sometimes preaching, often demeaning his callers, always frustrating his station manager (a very patient Larry Barnes).

This is a show heavy on the main character, and Lincoln plays Barry as a weird (but effective) amalgamation of Stern and two fictional characters who he brings to mind: Dr. Frasier Crane and Dr. Johnny Fever. Other cast members do get a bit of time to reflect on their relationship to Barry, with an especially effective, reflective monologue from Jim Allen as Barry’s producer who has known him a long time.

Kudos to Samvel Gottlieb who wrangles the sound for this show—an extremely important part of making a radio station come alive for the audience.

The action ramps up in the second act with two appearances at the radio station. The first is a mysterious parcel wrapped in brown paper and string, causing a bit of a panic that the cast handles well, even delightfully. The other is one of Barry’s callers who decides to pay an in-person visit. Isaac Lewis is a treat as the visitor who may or may not represent an existential threat to Barry, whose provocative on-air persona (which Lincoln plays as not much different from his attitude off-air) includes referring to his callers as “bitter, bigoted, grotesquely ignorant people” and “weepy pseudo-intellectuals.”

Director Chrys Barnes wisely gives Lincoln room to rant and also to reflect, letting him and the other cast members use the full stage area. She keeps the show’s center-stage “ON THE AIR” sign lit throughout the production, a good sign that it’s open and ready for an audience.

Talk Radio only runs one weekend, March 22-24, but it deserves a full house for each show.

:: Charlotte Alexander