Eric Bogosian’s work as a performer has continued to flourish along with his writing career, and his sensibilities as an actor have heavily influenced his writing. Unlike playwrights, such as Arthur Miller, who strived to produce the well-made play, Bogosian creates character-driven works, often with little regard to formalities of plot and theme. He tries to produce an event or a happening with his plays, placing his emphasis on the performance over the text. Although this technique might seem to make his drama less accessible to literary analysis, it actually provides his work with its greatest sense of intellectual tension. Rather than carefully formulating his productions, Bogosian lets his characters bring to the stage all of their many contradictions and paradoxes, often leaving the reader or viewer with an uneasy (and highly literary) sense of ambiguity. He does not ask simple questions and does not provide direct answers. Rather, he uses the theater as a means for self-expression, particularly in his solo shows, in which he can pursue whatever thoughts are plaguing him at the moment and he can speak to his audience, whom he frequently refers to as his “tribe.”
Many of those “plaguing thoughts” involve generational issues and popular culture. He often explores the ways in which his generation has moved from idealism to materialism, particularly in Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll and Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead. His view of the United States is large, and in his solo shows as well as the ensemble play, Scenes from the New World, he depicts a cross-section of the United States, presenting what he often describes in interviews as the “ archetypes” for people that he knows. Readers of Bogosian’s plays are as likely to encounter winos, prostitutes, muggers, rednecks, and drug addicts as they are to find yuppies, Hollywood agents, rock stars, family men, and business executives. In fact, although one might be tempted to point to obvious theatrical and cultural predecessors such as Bertolt Brecht and Lenny Bruce in order to place Bogosian’s drama in a literary context, his affinity for such a broad range of American characters as well as his ability to juggle contradictory ideologies and personalize all the material links him as closely to the American poet Walt Whitman as to any other playwrights or performers.
Bogosian’s first full-length ensemble play, Talk Radio, centers on the personality of Barry Champlain, a confrontational radio talk-show host, whose program, Nighttalk, is on the verge of being distributed nationally. The action takes place during one difficult night when Champlain wrestles with off-beat phone calls, pressures to change the show, and ultimately, a crisis of conscience. He begins to question whether going national is “selling out,” and both the character, Champlain, and the writer, Bogosian, seem to question whether there is any artistic integrity in such a show at all. The play ponders whether such programs are public forums for exchanging important ideas or merely spectacle...
(The entire section is 1280 words.)