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The Reviews Are In: Bryan Cranston in ‘Network’ on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Amy Sapp |

How did critics digest the stage adaptation of the famed 1970s motion picture?

Based on the 1976 film of the same name, Network is now playing at the Belsasco Theatre. The immersive, non-stop play stars Tony Award winner Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame, Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) and Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black).

Read on for highlights from 10 critics’ reviews of Network on Broadway.

Bryan Cranston and the cast of ‘Network’ on Broadway (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

Bryan Cranston and the cast of ‘Network’ on Broadway (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

The New York Times
“For your sins, Bryan Cranston is all but flaying the skin off his body, night after night at the Belasco Theater. It is a demanding undertaking, both painful and rigorously skilled. And if you’re a glutton for great, high-risk acting, you owe Mr. Cranston the courtesy – and yourself the thrill – of watching his self-immolation in Network.

“Cranston’s disintegration is a hell of a thing to watch, especially in the excruciating moments of silence before Beale launches into his first famous tirade. With a camera up in his face and that face looming, distorted with pain, up on the set’s back wall, Cranston stumbles and sways, squinting through tears and groping to pull the scattering fragments of his brain back together. In the awful stillness, as his mouth gaped wordlessly and his brow folded up like a crumpled napkin, I realized I’m looking forward to his (King) Lear.”

The New York Post
“In Broadway’s Network, Bryan Cranston does the impossible: Playing Howard Beale, the so-called mad prophet of the airwaves, he makes Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning turn feel like yesterday’s news. So mesmerizing is the Breaking Bad star as the vulnerable, volatile newscaster that there should be an insert in the Playbill: Please pick up your jaw before leaving the theater.”

“Tal Yarden’s video-scape blasts us with vintage ads for soap powder, tacos, hair products and diarrhea pills. The set is so electrifyingly antsy, it’s hard to know where to look; but at the same time, it’s impossible to look away – which is, of course, the point of television…The chance to watch Cranston in full-throated flight is what sells tickets here. But once they’re in the theater, audiences will find that Beale’s anger now feels so palpably topical that, when Beale urges America to stand up for itself and send out a mighty roar of disapproval, it takes a lot of self-control to keep from jumping up and shouting along.”

The Hollywood Reporter
“The play – which runs an intense two hours with no intermission – is most persuasive when the multiplying images on the main screen and monitors around the theater are trampling any notion of separation between private and public worlds. One especially dexterous cut to a wide shot of us in the audience draws gasps, making everyone complicit. With so many multimedia elements both prerecorded and filmed live, this must have been a hellishly complicated production to plan; its complexity is breathtaking.”

“Screens abound in this production, and midway through the play, when Beale issues his famous invocation, smartphone-style videos start popping up on projections above the stage, with the self-styled protagonists delivering the famous message…This creative staging is dizzyingly effective, particularly when Cranston descends into the audience to deliver directly his odd, curmudgeonly charisma. One could argue that this is what a play should be all about: eliciting a powerful response amidst its audience members.”

“Bryan Cranston’s blistering performance as Network’s mad-as-hell prophet of the airwaves – now ranting from Broadway’s Belasco Theatre – is all the proof anyone could need that an actor can demolish any and all associations to a role that audiences carry to their seats. I’m not referring to our memories of Peter Finch’s instant classic performance of raving newsman Howard Beale in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 masterwork. The ghost Cranston battles is his own, and even if by now he’s an old hat at ripping away a perma-glued fictional persona, his Network star turn is no less mesmerizing, so thoroughly does the actor strip away Walter White. ”

The Wrap
“On stage, van Hove attempts to distract us by recording live on the sidewalk in front of the Belasco Theatre the meet-cute reconciliation of Diana (Tatiana Maslany, being enigmatic) and Max (Tony Goldwyn, being gracious). On one level, it’s interesting. The public is so conditioned to seeing reality-TV crews on the streets of Manhattan that passersby on West 44th Street don’t even give Maslany and Goldwyn a second glance as the two actors perform their roles in front of a handheld camera.”

Rolling Stone
“Cranston comes damn close to matching the power of Finch’s Beale, focusing more than his predecessor on the character’s desperate sadness. The shift in tone works, and not only because of its freshness: Post-Watergate ire and cynicism seem to have given way to a end-of-our-ropes resignation, and that, when all is said and done, goes as far as anything to explain why van Hove chose to resurrect Network. Time to get mad as hell, indeed.”

New York Daily News
“This is one profoundly clever show, the rare conceptual masterwork that puts all the current railing against fake news and cheap network theatrics in a much broader temporal context. If you feel like we're all mad and in hell, here's the show that reminds you it was ever thus, suckers.”

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in December 2018

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