A COLLECTION of zany misfits who occupied the shady side of the late, not so great '80s are mercilessly depicted in 12 dark and scathingly funny portraits by social critic/actor/writer Eric Bogosian in his newest one-man show, "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll."
The characters are stripped of all their indulgent pretensions in Bogosian's acclaimed work, which has come from the Orpheum Theater in New York to the Baltimore Museum of Art Saturday and Sunday as part of the Museum's "Off tHe Wall" contemporary performance series.
The performer's retinue of monologues packed into the more than 90-minute piece include: a subway panhandler expecting money from passengers for not mugging them, a phony, megalomaniac rock 'n' roll star making a comeback, an unscrupulous lawyer whose motto is "sue me," a sleazy recording executive wheeling and dealing in private and professional life and a drugged '60s dropout plunged into a paranoid narcotic nightmare of computer superiority.
A movie of this work, directed by John McNaughton, will be released soon. It was filmed during the actor's recent Boston appearance.
"I feel the picture is very strong," said Bogosian in a phone conversation from his home in Manhattan where he resides with his wife (and director) Jo Bonney, who is expecting their second child.
"The point is to get the audience to feel right there, front row center."
Lauded for his intense physical energy on stage and his lightning ability to change characters, the wiry, curly haired performer has been called a phenomenon by the prestigious New York critics Frank Rich, Clive Barnes and John Simon. He has been hailed as the Lenny Bruce of his time. Bogosian's previous one-man shows, "Funhouse" and "Drinking in America," have won numerous awards including two Obies.
In 1987, the actor collaborated with director Oliver Stone to write and star in the movie version of Bogosian's stage play "Talk Radio." The movie was acclaimed for Bogosian's performance as the scurrilous disc jockey blatantly insulting his callers.
"My play had a tone different from Oliver's vision," said Bogosian. "In the play there were no flashbacks. It all took place in one night, and no one was killed." In the film, the character of Barry Champlain, like the real-life Denver talk-show host Alan Berg, is shot after a particularly searing broadcast.
"Oliver's point of view was more strident, deadly serious. I like to put in some humor," said Bogosian. "The play seemed to be about Alan Berg's life so we went that way. But when I wrote the script originally I didn't know Berg. I based my character on the shock hosts I have seen on New York TV, such as Joe Pine . . . a real monster.
"The important thing is not that he [Champlain] was shot at the end but what he did to himself," Bogosian emphasized. "Barry telling America how it is . . . deluding himself into thinking only he knew the truth. He had a grandiose opinion of his own importance. 'Talk Radio' is a moral fable to myself."
Bogosian said that in his current show he does a lot of bad attitudes that "we all share." "More than the wild characters I create, audiences have greater difficulty with attitudes. Something happens in the theater," he observed. "People become more self-aware. They relate and find they are uncomfortably examining themselves."
A former resident of Ohio, Bogosian attended Oberlin University and performed in Shakespearean productions during his college days. He went to New York in 1975.
"I worked in traditional theater but didn't find it exciting. It was too commercial, too dry. Then I found this art scene in SoHo," he said. "I liked the feeling of the people, the artists and the performance artists. I did a little solo piece there, and it caught on."
In 1982 he performed a one-man show in the New York Shakespeare Festival and since then his life has been turned around.
"I have always wanted to be an actor," Bogosian said. "It is my first love. I like the idea of writing, but it is so hard." Chuckling, he added, "But I have to write plays to say the things that are important to me."
Performances of "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll," are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for students, seniors and Museum of Art members. For reservations and further information, call the BMA programs office at 396-6314.