Anyone familiar with the movie will be prepared for the bleak malevolence of the ending. But van Hove and Hall save their most significant addition for last, replacing Chayefsky's omniscient narrator with a coda in which an out-of-body Howard warns of "the destructive power of absolute beliefs." Given the adaptation's shift to make Howard its monumental center, plus the fact that Cranston blows everyone else off the stage, it's fitting that he has the final word.
NETWORK Broadway Reviews
Reviews of Network on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for Network including the New York Times and More...
Say what you want about the power of live performance, audiences will inevitably gravitate to the big jumbotron image over the real and tiny thing every time. Van Hove's direction, Jan Versweyveld's lighting and sets, and Tal Yarden's videos not only acknowledge that audience preference, they turn it into an addiction and make it central to what this "Network" is all about.
The adaptation by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) sticks close to Chayefsky's original script, with mixed results. References to, say, The Mary Tyler Moore Show once gave Network a startling contemporaneity, but now seem a tad camp. And hearing, with fresh ears, that melodramatic monologue that won Beatrice Straight an Oscar does little but suggest just how good Straight was. That's no slight against Alyssa Bresnahan, who plays the role on stage, but lightning can't strike twice.
Bryan Cranston, who could do no wrong as Walter White in "Breaking Bad" (and a Tony winner for "All the Way"), burrows deep under the skin of Howard Beale here: the furrowed brow, the anxious angularity, the searching eyes all indicate a person in extremis. But it's the voice that really makes us feel - and fear - for Beale. Beneath the mellifluous tones of Cranston's professional "newsman" delivery we can hear the agitated rasp and incipient howl of a person who's cracking up.
Yet even if this "Network" doesn't entirely hang together, it's still a fabulous piece of entertainment, directed and performed with verve and showmanship. Just about every directorial choice here - the clocks that count down to Beale's news broadcasts; the applause signs demanding the audience's interaction; a final scene magic trick straight out of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" - manages to be audacious without feeling show-offy. If you're going to transfer a movie to the stage, this is exactly how to do it, by respecting both forms and then taking a sledgehammer to them. Let the pieces land thrillingly where they may.
In the case of "Network," Lee Hall's stage version of the 1976 Paddy Chayefsky-Sidney Lumet film about a network anchorman (played in the film by Peter Finch and onstage by Bryan Cranston) who cracks up midway through the evening news and starts telling the truth, the frosting has been whipped up by Ivo van Hove, Europe's most pretentious stage director. Working in close collaboration with Jan Versweyveld, the scenic and lighting designer, and Tal Yarden, the video designer, Mr. Van Hove has given us a TV-screens-and-Plexiglas production that looks thoroughly postmodern. The catch is that Mr. Hall's script, set in 1975, is a faithful adaptation of Chayefsky's screenplay, a once-prescient satire of the dumbed-down future of broadcast news. All of Chayefsky's predictions having long since come to pass, "Network" is thus a musty period piece: The bomb has already gone off.
With its continual sensory overload and its darkly vague intimations about populism and corporate power, this Network certainly looks cool. But it’s beyond cool: It’s icy. We seem intended to nod our heads and think about how prescient it all was—the mob appeal of anger, a mention of Saudi Arabia—but then to think no more. Network isn’t galvanizing, it’s numbing: emptily flashy in its condemnation of empty flash, inhuman in its wan defense of humanity. It has a superb TV star and a killer catch phrase, but behind the sound and fury is only a shadow of significance.