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

Chayefsky’s original screenplay, which critiques media scrutiny, needn’t be altered as the message remains dark, hilarious and unrelentingly dark throughout, and still resonates nearly 50 years later

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

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Almost half a century later, it now seems eerily prescient. A few giant corporations taking over and controlling the media? Check. A popular news presenter who goes insane and not only gets celebrated for it, but also rakes in stellar ratings? Um, Alex Jones. Reality TV shows following the exploits of domestic terrorist groups? Maybe not yet, but to be fair we’re probably not that far off yet. You don’t have to adapt to the internet age if your audience is smart enough to understand the conclusions.

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That’s probably why Lee Hall’s theatrical adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay is fairly faithful to the original. The media is far 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 comes in many formats.

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I’m pissed as hell and I can’t take it anymore!

Howard Beale on the network

Here’s the synopsis for those whose movie tastes don’t stretch past the 1990s: It’s the mid-’70s, and UBS, the fourth-ranked television network in the US, is retiring its longtime news anchor Howard Beale, who starred in this Jim Mezon production. Except that Beale refuses to go gently into that good night and retains his position at the desk despite long Jeremiahs touching on a few House truths. He’s saying what we’d all like to say, and that’s why the network’s ratings are soaring. Beale could lose his mind, but with declarations like “I’m insane and I can’t take it anymore!” He struck a chord with a very frustrated audience.

Everything spirals from there, with Beale’s best friend and head of news Max Schumacher (Alex Poch-Goldin), the “Beilmann” Frank Hackett (Richard Young) and the ambitious network executive Diana Christiansen (Alana Hawley Purvis). . On an ever-changing array of cameras and video screens, serving double duty in the newsroom and a few other locations, they act out a spiraling comic tragedy while their “prophet of the ether” holds court with a series of speeches that always seemed appropriate to the Theatre. Meanwhile, relationships unravel, ethics crumble, and an entire country indulges in the cheesiest entertainment disguised as news.

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The Citadel Theater's Network Features production (left to right) starring Alex Poch-Goldin, Alana Hawley Purvis and Jim Mezon.
The Citadel Theater’s Network Features production (left to right) starring Alex Poch-Goldin, Alana Hawley Purvis and Jim Mezon. Photo by Nanc Price /delivered

Network, the film was heavily star-studded, with Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall imprinting themselves into their roles. It’s admittedly hard to hear anyone else recite some of these lines, and Mezon in particular as Beale struggles with Finch’s indelible reading, which he does, shifting the emphasis away from certain phrases so as not to slavishly imitate them. He beautifully captures Beale’s essential blend 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 in ruthless intrigue.

If you’ve seen the movie more than a dozen times (like some of us) you’ll notice some changes. A little subplot that ties into the ending is cut out, and Beale gets a few of Schumacher’s lines. Interestingly, one of Beale’s speeches that borders on racism is retained, although it can be strongly argued that it mirrors almost perfectly what we recently heard from a former US President. It’s saying something that Chayefsky’s original screenplay needed no tweaking to be relevant, and that message, which remains dark, hilarious and unrelentingly dark throughout, still resonates nearly 50 years later.

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REVIEW

network

When Until October 9th

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

tickets From $30 at citadeltheatre.com

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