REVIEW: Network resonates on stage while staying true to the 1976 film

Chayefsky’s original script criticizing media control needs no tweaking, as the message remains bleak, hilarious and unrelentingly dark throughout and still resonates nearly 50 years later.

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When the Network film version debuted in 1976, it was considered to be an over-the-top exercise in satire.

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Nearly half a century later and now it seems eerily prescient. Giant conglomerates taking over and controlling the media? Check. A popular newscaster who loses his mind and who is not only celebrated for the fact but also gets excellent ratings? Ahem, Alex Jones. Reality shows that follow the exploits of domestic terrorist groups? Maybe not yet, but to be fair, we’re probably not that far away. There is no need to adapt to the Internet age if your audience is smart enough to understand the inferences.

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That’s probably why Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay is fairly faithful to the original. The media is too fragmented for a literal interpretation of the script to make sense in 2022, but we can all draw our own conclusions, whether it’s FOX News, your phone, or a computer. Small screens are small screens, after all, and fake news abounds in many formats.

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I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Howard Beale in Network

Here’s the synopsis, for those whose taste in movies goes no further than 1990: This is the mid-’70s, and UBS, the fourth-ranked TV station in the US, sees this Jim Mezon production. Except Beale politely refuses to enter that good night, keeping his place at the desk despite long jeremiahs touching on some home truths. He’s saying what we’d all like to say, and the network’s ratings are skyrocketing because of it. Beale could be losing control of his sanity, but with statements like, “I’m fucking pissed off and I’m not going to take it anymore!” he has struck a chord with a very frustrated audience.

It all spirals from there, taking in Beale’s best friend and news division chief Max Schumacher (Alex Poch-Goldin), “hatchet man” Frank Hackett (Richard Young), and ambitious network executive Diana Christiansen. (Alana Hawley-Purvis). On an ever-changing set of cameras and video screens that do double duty in the newsroom and a couple other places, they stage a spiraling comic tragedy as their “prophet of the airwaves” performs on the court with a series of speeches that always seemed appropriate. to the theater Meanwhile, relationships crumble, ethics disintegrate, and an entire country indulges in the cheesiest entertainment disguised as news.

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The Citadel Theater's production of Network Features (L to R), with Alex Poch-Goldin, Alana Hawley Purvis and Jim Mezon.
The Citadel Theater’s production of Network Features (L to R), with Alex Poch-Goldin, Alana Hawley Purvis and Jim Mezon. Photo by Nancy Price /Supplied

Network, the film was heavily star-driven, with Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall commanding their roles. Admittedly, it’s hard to listen to someone else reciting some of those lines, and Mezon as Beale in particular has to struggle with Finch’s indelible reading, which he does by shifting the emphasis of certain phrases so as not to slavishly mimic. It beautifully captures Beale’s essential mix of warmth and fragility, while Alex Poch-Goldin brings us a slightly less sardonic Schumacher than Holden. Alana Hawley Purvis is close to the original, both in accent and unscrupulous intrigue.

If you’ve seen the movie more than a dozen times (like some of us), you’ll notice a few changes. A minor subplot that ties into the ending is removed, and Beale gets some of Schumacher’s lines. Interestingly, one of Beale’s speeches is kept, bordering on the racist, though it can be argued strongly that it almost perfectly mirrors what we’ve recently heard from a former US President. It says something that the original script of Chayefsky needs no retouching to be relevant, and that message, which remains bleak, hilarious and relentlessly dark throughout, still resonates nearly 50 years later.

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REVISION

The net

When Until October 9

Where Shoctor Theater, Citadel Theater (9828 101A Ave.)

Tickets Starting at $30 from citadeltheatre.com

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