‘Network’ in an Age of Fake News and Fury

Theater

The point of all this apparatus, Mr. van Hove and Mr. Versweyveld said, is to create a theatrical experience that is constantly in motion — the play is two hours long without an intermission — in which everyone is under observation and no one is told where to look. As they envision it, the boundary between what’s occurring on that giant screen and what is happening in reality should always be ambiguous.

The production still needed its Howard Beale, which it found in Mr. Cranston. At 62, he is two years older than Finch was when he played the part, though Mr. Cranston is hardly the fading lion the British actor had been. Mr. Cranston has won four Emmy Awards for his acting work on “Breaking Bad,” a Tony Award for “All the Way” and an Olivier Award for the London production of “Network.”

He is deliberate in his choices and confident when he reaches them. When it comes to the theater, Mr. Cranston told me, “I don’t believe in absolute blind reverence to the material. I just don’t. Because it is a performance art. It’s not a painting.” (This would not necessarily have endeared him to Chayefsky, who was a stickler for the written word.)

Mr. Cranston has already spent many months inhabiting Beale, and he said he had grown accustomed to the character’s arc, as he evolves from a bitter relic to a beloved articulator of public rage — and then, horrifically, into an anti-Arab, pro-corporate demagogue.

But within that trajectory, Mr. Cranston said he was still making discoveries about the play and his performance. He could never anticipate, from show to show, how he might deliver a monologue like the “mad as hell” speech, when Beale defiantly tells his audience he has no solutions for a world in which “we know things are bad — worse than bad, they’re crazy.”

“Sometimes that speech stays angry and gets [expletive] furious,” Mr. Cranston said. “Sometimes it takes me to a place where I’m weeping, and I’m so hurt and damaged and broken. I don’t really know from time to time, and that’s great. That’s where it should live.”

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