Night Talk host Barry Champlain to a caller: "You're a dimwit. Instead of brains, you have sawdust between your ears. If I sounded half as stupid as you do, I'd be too embarrassed to open my mouth."
He may sound like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, but in the Springs Ensemble Theatre's debut performances of Talk Radio, Champlain promises to put these shock jocks to shame.
Talk Radio is an antagonizing rendition of Eric Bogosian's most notable play, which was adapted to film in 1988 by Oliver Stone. It tracks the arrogant, abusive and condescending Champlain as he torments opinionated callers during his nationally syndicated broadcast. Topics range from race to antisemitism to homosexuality.
Steve Emily, a professional actor since 1991, plays the lead character.
"Barry is like Dr. Frankenstein, and the callers are his monster," Emily says. "It's his masterpiece when they are strapped to the table and controllable, but on this night callers are flying off the table and he loses control."
And yet Emily believes "there is a little Barry in us all."
Apparently, SET's members have managed to keep their inner Champlains in check while coming together as a theatrical troupe. The 15 players range from fresh 20-somethings to seasoned theater veterans with exposure in film, television, theater and teaching, according to Miriam Roth Ballard, a 30-year stage veteran (and a Hewlett-Packard sales rep) who plays Linda, Champlain's love interest.
Roth Ballard says the group, whose inner workings are based on committee and majority votes, was formed when several members decided to stop complaining about what they wanted to see done in local theater and to do it themselves.
In Emily's words: "We want to be able to say 'fuck' without worrying about pissing off our subscribers."
Both Ballard and Emily say SET aims to provide high-quality, envelope-pushing theater on a low budget. Talk Radio introduces the feisty attitude that promises to carry through SET's productions of David Mamet's Glengarry Glenn Ross in July and lesser-known Texas-based playwright Jackie Rosenfeld's keepingabreast during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Eventually, they hope to see area actors using locally written scripts.
"The other local companies have to do high-quality stuff that puts butts in the seats," Roth Ballard says. "We want to do more provocative things and challenge the audience."
Not that SET's uninterested in putting "butts in the seats." But its financial pressures are somewhat alleviated by support from a generous, anonymous backer and from other sources, like the proceeds of a theater summer day camp; members ran one for sixth-graders through high school seniors last summer, and plan another for this summer.
As for a showing of good faith on being provocative, there's certainly no better man for the job than Barry Champlain. He and this new dark horse of Springs theater are ready and excited to mouth off.