Eric Bogosian does not suffer fools gladly. The theater veteran from New York City commands a room like few others. He has a tremendous confidence and loose delivery that only comes with serious chops. Occasionally he glanced stage side at a list of characters unique to each particular performance; he even shrugged and made a point of showing the crowd what he was looking at. But he was also happy to step out of character to take a verbal swipe at someone arriving late, mock performance art, or just to make quick comments to the crowd.
Bogosian returned to Dallas last week for the first time since 1988, when he filmed Talk Radio, a film adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-nominated play. This was Oliver Stone's darkest film and also his best. Bogosian should've been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the film.
As radio personality Barry Champlain, he created a protagonist with several facets, most of them unsavory and challenging. It was a tour de force performance on the big screen, an incredible new way to showcase what Bogosian had been doing onstage for years with his monologues for solo shows.
Bogosian continued creating new monologues until 2000, when his focus continued to shift to acting and writing novels. He appeared on a zillion episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and worked with more great directors like Woody Allen, Robert Altman and Steven Spielberg. He even played the bad guy in a Steven Seagal flick. A longtime fan of Alan Rickman’s performance in Die Hard, Bogosian was fulfilling his longtime dream of being a villain in an action film.
Last year he published 100 Monologues, a book with a title that references the number of characters that comprise his six bodies of work over two decades. With his monologues in written form, Bogosian quickly launched a website of the same name featuring new renditions by a long list of actors like Michael Shannon and Jennifer Tilly.
Known originally as high-level performances that more or less seemed to add a punk rock vibe to theater, these fresh perspectives made Bogosian take another look at his own material and consider different possibilities. Bogosian, now 62, was obviously influenced by these renditions as he prepared for four Dallas-only performances at Wyly Theatre, titled Bitter Honey: The Best of 100 (Monologues).
He still has plenty of energy, but he’s more thoughtful. Instead of going full-tilt boogie for 75 minutes straight, there did seem to be an attention to pacing, and even a beginning and ending. There were definitely more tonal shifts. One minute he was racing through a bit and throwing himself across the stage. The next he was sitting in a chair with a delivery that was slow and careful. But Bogosian still has plenty of rough edges.
A staple of all the performances was the pot dealer from hell. This is a guy who gets his invisible customer into his home and gets him so high that he starts drooling. Then he breaks out the cocaine and cuts himself an enormous line. After snorting it, Bogosian becomes a full-blown lunatic full of horrifying stories about how low he’ll go to get high. There are passive aggressive customer service representatives, self-help gurus who just want your money, and shallow actors.
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Every last one of these characters is reprehensible, as always. But Bogosian’s approach was very different with some of them than it has been in the past. In some places, adrenaline was replaced with a dry, sardonic delivery. This was equally effective in terms of humor, but more likely to make you smirk like a gag in a Woody Allen movie than incite laughter with shock value.
In his best monologues, Bogosian has an incredible way of circling around something remarkably disturbing about a character, and hitting it from countless ridiculous angles. His “well-endowed” man made an appearance during the final performance and it was a definite highlight. Friday night the deranged homeless character showed up. This was a character with an abrasive energy that was rarely if ever seen before in theater prior to Bogosian’s monologues. This bit has a crude sense of humor that is scatological, but in a way that almost seems polyrhythmic.
Bogosian had no sympathy for anyone who showed up late or walked out. On Friday night he really let a woman in the front row have it when she walked in during his first monologue: “You ever notice it’s always people in the front row who show up late?" he asked the crowd, disgusted. "I think they’re trying to draw attention away from the stage.”
The same went for people who didn’t seem to appreciate the crudest jokes. During the last performance on Sunday night, he invited a group of people to leave but warned them that they would not go unscathed. Ten minutes prior to the end, he really let a guy have it for walking out. He also assumed the priggish voice of an elderly lady several times, fussing about dirty jokes in an irritated, self-righteous manner.