Bryan Cranston is an icon. I grew up watching Malcolm in the Middle. While I waited longer than I'm proud of to watch Breaking Bad, I've now seen the series through at least four times. He's also one of those actors who inserts himself so deeply into a role that you forget it's him.
I've now had the opportunity to watch him do this live, not once, or twice, but in three separate viewings of Network on Broadway. You could say I'm a fan.
In this most recent experience, I ponied up for on-stage seating. I came along with my trusty theater-sidekick, Steve Giordano. You can see us on-stage, as the crowd was shuffling in below.
For the uninitiated, Network is a 1976 film about a television news anchor who unravels on the air. Over the series of multiple broadcasts he becomes increasingly maddened and eventually starts having revelations. The network executives begin to take advantage of this for ratings, and insanity ensues.
Network doesn't have to do much to modernize Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 film. The manipulation of the media, the commoditization of outrage, and the transition from a world of nations to a world of corporations are all major themes in this production.
When Chayefsky wrote the film, these themes were a fear of a not too distant future. Now, this might as well be a piece about what the world became. In fact it's a reminder that none of this is normal, but unfortunately it has been for a long time.
All of this is performed on a set designed to mimic a television studio. To the left is the producers room with all the bells and whistles of a television network, the right has Foodwork, the on-stage restaurant we attended, and center is the main stage. This creates an incredible, visually stimulating, experience for the audience.
Throughout the show there's action occurring off-center, either behind the producers room or within the restaurant. The show employs cameras so that the audience can always see what's happening.
Tatiana Maslany has an incredible energy playing Diana, the executive we focus on. She captures the raw ambition of Diana as she navigates the executive world in the pursuit of ratings.
Tony Goldwyn is convincing as the moral compass of the show, the only one who seems to know what everyone else is doing is wrong. I love the way he defends his friend, Howard.
Bryan Cranston is of course incredible as Howard Beale. This is a man going through an emotional breakdown and there isn't a minute where you can't suspend your disbelief. In the Mad As Hell scene he communicates so much with just body language. There are few actors as talented as him.
Being On Stage
This was the real reason I came to see this show for the third time, to sit on stage in Foodwork. This was a surreal experience. I was seated at a table that I knew was well let and very visible to the audience, however I barely felt like I was being watched.
We got there promptly at 6:15 to enjoy every minute we had on stage. We were greeted by actors warming up before the show, stretching on stage.
During the show itself we were occasionally brought in on the action. The cast would come into the restaurant and perform amongst us.
I was even given my broadway debut during the heyday of the Howard Beale Show. Jack Snowden, played by Barzin Akhaban, comes out and asks an audience member, me, how they're doing. I went with a twist on the show's mad as hell mantra, "I'm mad at Trump and I can't take it anymore."
Sitting on-stage, watching Bryan Cranston act is an unforgettable experience. I'm thrilled I got the chance to have it. If you're in New York, I highly recommend seeing Network on or off-stage. It plays until June 8.
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