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Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., Manhattan

Network
Review by Deirdre Donovan
As viewed in press performance Dec. 8, 2018
Run extended to Apr. 28, 2019


Click to see production photos here...

Network, the new London import at the Belasco, is a welcome addition to the current season. Staged by the Belgian-born director Ivo van Hove, it premiered at the National Theatre of Great Britain before winging its way to New York. Starring Bryan Cranston as the wild-and-wooly Howard Beale, it is one intense show that pushes the theatrical envelope in multifarious ways.

For those familiar with Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 movie, you will find that Lenny Hall’s adaptation hews closely to the original. Is the work dated? Surprisingly, no. With Van Hove and his creative team giving it a new multi-media spin, the film may hark back to the Nixon era but the stage version has a new 21st century snap, crackle, and pop.

If you somehow missed the cult classic—or need a refresher--here’s the story. Long-time television anchor Howard Beale suffers from poor ratings and is informed that he will be fired in two weeks. Beale does not go gently into retirement, however. He preposterously manages to reverse his low ratings by venting his anger on live television. Almost immediately he turns into a media sensation---and soon gets the moniker of “mad prophet of the airwaves.” But how long will his good ratings hold? And will the network’s top-knobbers keep him on board or fire him again? This dark comedy leaves more questions than answers. But it is a potent exploration of television journalism that speaks loudly in the Trump era.

Go early. The pre-show activity is well-worth your attention. You get to see Cranston, as Beale, having his make-up administered right up until the moment he goes on air (and the play proper starts). You also get immersed in the sights and sounds of a busy television studio, along with the nervous energy of a crew as they scurry from here to there to keep the technical stuff in synch.

Jan Versweyveld’s (Ivo van Hove’s partner in real-life) slick set and Tal Yarden’s video design is spot-on. It takes the vagaries of what goes on in television journalism and makes them concrete via glass walls, constantly-shifting images on screens, rolling cameras, and of course the flesh-and-blood of Cranston and his cast-mates.

Hungry to be on a Broadway stage? Well, a select few audience members get an immersive dining experience at Network. They sit on stage and are served a three-course meal as the play unfolds around them. Yes, this is a premium ticket. But it definitely ensures that one gets a real close-up look at the star and the rest of the cast.

Cranston is magnificent playing Beale. He won an Olivier Award the past April for originating the role at the National Theatre. Little wonder that he now is mesmerizing audiences at the Belasco with his high-octane acting as the “mad prophet.” It’s almost impossible not to be swept-up by his fiery chant: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!” Besides dripping with raw talent, Cranston demonstrates formidable stamina during the two-hour show sans intermission. Whether it’s spewing out scorching-hot monologues or gamely mingling--and conversing--with those in the front rows, Cranston delivers the portrait of a television anchor gone lunatic.

There are other principals flexing their theatrical muscles here. Tatiana Maslany, as Diana Christensen, won’t make you forget Faye Dunaway’s performance in the film version. But Maslany does come across as “television incarnate” and a moral wasteland. Tony Goldwyn, as Max Schumacher, is convincing as Beale’s boss and friend. But when it really comes down to it, nobody holds a candle to the brilliant acting of Cranston.

Van Hove gains a new feather in his cap with this mounting of Network. His recent Broadway productions of The Crucible and A View from the Bridge, as well as his other off-Broadway ventures, were all lauded by the critics. But this latest production reveals new colors in his kaleidoscopic talent. And it prompts one to wonder what Van Hove will tackle next as an artist.

Network is a hot ticket on Broadway. In a limited run, you shouldn’t dally if you want to see the unraveling of Cranston’s Beale at the Belasco.

Extended to April 28th

At the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th Street, Manhattan.

For tickets and information, phone 212-239-6200 or visit www.networkbroadway.com

Running time:  two hours with no intermission

Based on press performance of December 8th 2018




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