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Photo: Jan Versweyveld Review
There is one big question for theatergoers contemplating seeing “Network,” the stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning 1976 satire/cautionary tale about the power of television, now at the Belasco Theatre: Will you be mad as hell if you miss it? We’ll tell you after this commercial break. (Just kidding!)

Admittedly, it would be a shame not to see Bryan Cranston in what can only be called a triumphant return to Broadway. As Howard Beale, the recently-fired anchorman who lets loose with an honest diatribe about the disappointments of life and is soon seen (and exploited) as the mad prophet of the airways, the award-winning actor is beyond phenomenal. His big breakdown scene is a master class of acting, saying more with facial expression than words, and his transformation into an overconfident eminence is equally remarkable. Standing center stage (as he often does), delivering one meaty monologue after another, Cranston is consistently mesmerizing.

Meanwhile, both devotees of the film, as well as those who’ve never seen it, should be grateful for how much of Paddy Chayefsky’s blistering screenplay remains in Lee Hall’s script. Not only does much of what the characters say – about the use of TV, how money overrules sanity, and how so-called democracy has been taken over by corporations – come directly from the movie; much of it feels even more timely 42 years later.

Conversely, I suspect fans of the film will possibly be disappointed with how this version is completely centered around Beale, while the movie’s major plotline, the doomed romance between middle-aged TV producer Max Schumacher (a wonderfully anguished Tony Goldwyn) and younger, ratings-hungry, icy-hearted executive Diana Christensen (a woefully miscast Tatiana Maslany, unfit to fill even one of Faye Dunaway’s pumps) now feels like filler. Even the once-fiery scene in which the unfaithful Max is confronted by his angry wife Louise (Alyssa Bresnahan, effective enough in a role that earned Beatrice Straight the Academy Award) comes off a bit lukewarm.

Audiences may also differ in their reactions to the often innovative and often gimmicky work of Dutch director Ivo van Hove and his partner, set and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld. The pair have essentially trisected the onstage playing area, with a glass-enclosed control room on the left, a bar/restaurant on the right (where certain audience members sit and dine, and which serves, briefly, as a ridiculous setting for Max and Diana to have sex), and a central area where much of the action takes place.

Unsurprisingly, the back wall of the stage is dominated by – you guessed it – a giant TV screen that broadcasts many of the scenes of the play, some of which take place in areas that audiences can’t see. (A particularly poor choice is to have the TV show us Max and Diana talking outside the Belasco, live, in what is clearly 2018, which undoes so much of the care Van Hove has taken to previously ensure we’re in 1976!) Ultimately, I think the staging here is a little too meta for its own good.

Moreover, while some of Van Hove’s casting decisions are spot-on, most notably the choice of Nick Wyman, who is brilliant in just two scenes as head honcho Arthur Jensen, one is questionable. While Joshua Boone is quite good in the role of Frank Hackett, the corporate executive desperate to make a success of Beale and himself, I question the wisdom of choosing an African-American actor to portray the real villain of the piece. (Admittedly, there are other African-American performers in supporting roles, including Ron Canada as Boone’s honorable predecessor, Edward Ruddy.) And I wish such fine actors as Frank Wood and Henry Stram had roles of substance; instead, their talents are completely wasted here.

So here’s the bottom line about whether you should spend your “mad money” to purchase this hard-to-get ticket: Unfortunately, theater is not TV, so you can’t just wait for this “Network” to come to Netflix or HBO. But once there, you can’t change the channel either!

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Bryan Cranston, Tony Goldwyn, Tatiana Maslany, Joshua Boone, Alyssa Bresnahan, Ron Canada, Julian Elijah Martinez, Frank Wood, Nick Wyman, Barzin Akhavan, Jason Babinsky, Camila Canó Flaviá, Eric Chayefsky, Gina Daniels, Nicholas Guest, Joe Paulik, Susannah Perkins, Victoria Sendra, Henry Stram, Bill Timoney, Joseph Varca, Nicole Villamil, Jeena Yi

Open/Close Dates
Opening 12/6/2018
Closing 6/8/2019

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 11/10/2018
Closing Open-ended

Box Office

Theatre Info
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036