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Radio, TV: grist for two stage plays

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Theater is more intimate than TV or radio. Yet stage directors seem increasingly drawn to mass-media techniques - as a subject and as a theatrical device. The trend continues in two new plays: ``Talk Radio,'' written by and starring Eric Bogosian at the Public Theater, and ``It's a Man's World,'' presented by the experimental Mabou Mines troupe. ``Talk Radio'' centers on one Barry Champlain, a broadcaster who's rude, foul-mouthed, abrasive, bigoted, and egotistical - qualities that mean fame and fortune in some inexplicable byways of the radio world.

Listeners dial his number and state their questions, comments, or complaints. Then they start hearing his views, liberally laced with vulgarity and abuse of themselves. He insults their intelligence, their personalities, their morals, their relatives, and anything else that comes to mind. Occasionally he'll treat a complimentary caller with oily respect - only to give the impression that he's a sweet guy, deep down. Then it's on to the next call and the next barrage of nastiness.

Why do Barry's callers put up with - even ask for - this kind of treatment? Nobody's more puzzled than Barry himself. But he doesn't argue with success, and his ratings are high. In fact, his show is about to go national (from its Cleveland base) so Barry can start bad-mouthing dialers all over the United States.

Despite competition from TV and other media, radio is a pervasive (sometimes invasive) force in modern life. Broadcasters like Barry have fans in many places and are a tantalizing subject for study. What gives ``Talk Radio'' passion as well as insight is the presence of Mr. Bogosian in the leading role. Bogosian is obsessed by the voices of today's America and has made them the centerpiece - via his amazing gift for vocal expression and mimicry - of such ``performance art'' pieces as ``FunHouse'' and ``Drinking in America.''

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