The Name of This Play is Talking Heads
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
March 10, 2005
Marc Spitz’s new comedy, The Name of This Play is Talking Heads, squeezes a lot of meaning into a short amount of time. Clocking in at just under an hour, Talking Heads serves as both a sharp satire on the shallowness of entertainment and an effective cautionary tale about the dangers of mass cultural brainwashing. That’s quite an achievement, and one well worth seeing.
Pete, a music journalist for a reputable national magazine, has been invited to appear on a music television program highlighting the “Top 100 Rockatrocious Moments in Rock History.” While watching comedian Frankie tape his segment of the show, Pete is appalled to learn that Frankie does not think up his own extemporaneous witty comments. Rather, he is fed all his material and told what to say. When Pete defends his right to say what he wants on camera, he enters into a comic battle of wills with the show’s director, Tom, which threatens to turn fatal.
Spitz’s targets in Talking Heads are the countless “music punditry” programs that proliferate on both MTV and VH1. He writes as both a satirist and a concerned citizen. His jabs at the superficial nature of these shows are pointed and hysterical. Tom tells Pete that the incentive for appearing on TV is not to serve an informational purpose, but to gain “exposure” for oneself (a by-product of which is the opportunity to have sex with any woman one wants). He also confesses to Pete that people don’t watch these programs to hear in-depth analysis of the topic: they just want to laugh and escape the hardships of the world and their respective lives. Therefore, Tom makes sure that he guides the content of the show to meet those criteria. His message to Pete is clear: to be entertaining is more important than to be real.
Spitz is clearly indignant that such programs lull viewers into cheerful complacency with corporate-approved content, instead of providing the edgy, insightful, and off-the-cuff entertainment they promise. He uses Pete as his mouthpiece to warn us against compliance with such shows and the networks that produce them. If the nation continues to watch such programming, then we as a people are choosing to buy what Corporate America wants us to think. Though Talking Heads is funny throughout, and downright hilarious in places—– as in the scenes when Pete trips himself up trying to impress the network’s sexy, no-frills make-up artist, Dolly, while Frankie deploys his scuzzy charm to win her over—Spitz’s message encouraging freedom of thought and expression is most potent (especially since he sandwiches it between belly laughs).
In fact, Talking Heads proves itself to be an ideological descendant of George Orwell’s 1984. The final showdown between Pete and Tom, in which the latter tries to make the former play by the rules, is reminiscent of (and comparable to) Winston’s torturous interrogations at the hands of O’Brien in Orwell’s novel—both in its twisted logic and its frightening clarity.
Director Andy Goldberg keeps things simple and clean, focusing on the play’s theme and moving Talking Heads along at a brisk pace. The actors—Valerie Clift, James Eason, Matt Higgins, Brian Normant, and Brian Reilly—display crack comic timing, and all turn in excellent performances.
The Name of This Play is Talking Heads is both fun and good for you. Strong medicine rarely tastes this good. I suggest taking a healthy dose of it before it’s all gone.