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Theater Review: Network

SARASOTA – Nearly half a century since the movie Network seemed to predict the downfall of television news, Lee Hall's stage adaptation is perhaps even more relevant. It opened Friday at the Florida Studio Theater.

Based on the award-winning film of the same name, Network tells the story of Howard Beale, a veteran news anchor who is being let go due to poor ratings. In his farewell broadcast, Beale has a mental breakdown live on air, which actually causes his ratings to skyrocket.

The network Beale works for must decide what to do with their stark raving madman of an anchor – put him to pasture (or perhaps an asylum), or milk his breakdown for all its worth. It chooses the latter and the outcome runs the gamut from hilarity to tragedy while remaining entertaining throughout.

FST pulled out all stops in building an elaborate studio set that is hyper-modern, despite the play's setting remaining in the mid-1970s. The grand ambition of the set creates a few blind spots for the audience and some of the characters affected the WASPy NYC accent prevalent in the film, which compounded the disconnect, but it was nonetheless a stellar production that showcased a number of fine performances from the gigantic cast.

FST regular Sheffield Chastain is outstanding as Beale, vividly portraying the character's descent to madness in a jarring fashion. Rod Brogan delivers us a Max Schumacher that is quite reminiscent of William Holden's performance in the film. Carly Zien is captivating as the Diana Christensen character, a television programmer famously played by Faye Dunaway in the movie.

Of course, the most important character, small as the role may be, is Arthur Jensen, the corporate overlord who delivers Beale his famous talking to in the penultimate scene. Roy Stanton, an actor of much more imposing physical demeanor than Ned Beatty, makes the role his own, delivering a sinister monologue that serves as a bolded exclamation point on a very fine production.

Network runs through March 19. Click here for ticket information.


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