REVIEW: True to the 1976 film, Network resonates on the Citadel stage

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

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

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Almost half a century later, it now seems oddly prescient. A few giant conglomerates taking over and controlling the media? Check. A popular news anchor who loses her mind and is not only celebrated for the fact, but also gets excellent ratings? Um, Alex Jones. Reality TV shows that follow the exploits of domestic terrorist groups? Maybe not yet, but to be honest, we’re probably not that far off. No need to adapt to the internet age if your audience is smart enough to understand inferences.

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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 come to 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 with rage and I’m not going to do without it!

Howard Beale in Network

Here’s the synopsis, for those whose tastes in movies don’t go beyond the 1990s: it’s the mid-’70s, and UBS, America’s fourth-largest television network, is retiring its longtime anchor, Howard Beale, starred in this Jim Mezon production. Except that Beale refuses to go easy on this good night, keeping his position at the office despite long whimpers that touch on a few truths. He says what we would all like to say, and the network ratings are skyrocketing because of it. Beale may be losing control of his sanity, but with statements like, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” it struck a chord with a very frustrated audience.

It all goes in circles from there, with Beale’s best friend and news division chief Max Schumacher (Alex Poch-Goldin), “axe man” Frank Hackett (Richard Young) and ambitious network director Diana Christiansen (Alana Hawley Purvis). On an ever-changing set of cameras and video screens that do double duty in the newsroom and a few other places, they play out spiraling comic tragedy as their “prophet of the airwaves” holds court with a series of speeches that always seemed suitable for the theatre. Meanwhile, relationships crumble, ethics crumble, and an entire country indulges in the most sordid entertainment disguised as news.

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The Citadel Theater production of network features (left to right), starring Alex Poch-Goldin, Alana Hawley Purvis and Jim Mezon.
The Citadel Theater production of network features (left to right), starring Alex Poch-Goldin, Alana Hawley Purvis and Jim Mezon. Photo by Nanc Price /Provided

Network the film was heavily star-driven, with Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall dabbing in their roles. It’s admittedly hard to hear someone else recite some of these lines, and Mezon as Beale in particular has to struggle with Finch’s indelible reading, which he does by deflecting the emphasis from certain phrases. so as not to slavishly imitate. He 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 her accent and her unscrupulous storylines.

If you’ve seen the movie more than a dozen times (like some of us), you’ll notice a few changes. A minor subplot related to the ending is deleted and Beale gets some of Schumacher’s lines. Interestingly, one of Beale’s speeches, which borders on racism, is preserved, though it can be argued forcefully that it almost perfectly mirrors what we’ve heard quite recently from a former US president. It says something that Chayefsky’s original script doesn’t need to be altered to be relevant, and that message, which remains grim, hilarious, and relentlessly dark throughout, still resonates almost 50 years later.

  1. The Citadel presents a Network stage production starring Jim Mezon at the Shocktor Theater from September 17 to October 9.

    The Citadel lets Network scream as a new stage production

  2. The Citadel Theater production Clue featuring, from left, Alexander Ariate, Darla Biccum, Doug Mertz, Rachel Bowron and Rochelle Laplante.

    REVIEW: Lots of applause for the classic thriller clue that makes you laugh for a minute

  3. The 2022/23 season of the Citadel opens with Clue, from July 16 to August 27.

    Citadel announces 2022/23 Dynamic Lineup, starting with Clue in July

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EXAM

Network

When Until October 9

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

Tickets From $30 at citadeltheatre.com

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