Concetta Tomei as Oriana Fallaci. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

It didn't take long to recognize the chunks of the dialogue in Fallaci, Lawrence Wright's new play about Italian journalist/provocateur Oriana Fallaci, which were lifted pretty much straight from Margaret Talbot's 2006 piece "The Agitator" (published in in The New Yorker, for which Wright also writes). It was so noticeable that I wondered to myself that if I had only taken the time to track down the 1981 Playboy interview with Fallaci, would I have inadvertently and unwittingly read most of the play before seeing it? Let's assume the answer to that question is no, if only because pursuing it would serve no real purpose other than as additional evidence that the play is lazy and unoriginal. And there's enough of that onstage already.

That's a damn shame because Fallaci's larger-then-life, gleefully antagonistic persona is a natural for the theater, and she gets a worthy interpretation by Concetta Tomei in a finely-tuned performance. While Tomei holds her own well enough, she can't take up enough room onstage to divert the audience's attention from Marjan Neshat's portrayal of Maryam- a young reporter who is meant to be Fallaci's double/mirror/antithesis/daughter/younger self, etc. etc. etc we get it. Really. Thank you.

The character of Maryam is so uninterestingly written and presented here (though the set by Robin Wagner is note-perfect) that it's hard to say how much of the result rests with Neshat, and I'm tempted to give her a complete pass. That another actor to do much more with the role is hard to imagine. It's a great set-up- a young reporter, a young female, Muslim reporter, is sent to interview Fallaci for her eventual obituary. In fact it's a fucking brilliant premise, and I can see why Berkeley Rep wanted to stage it. Sadly, instead of something that could have easily (on paper at least) had the bite of  Frost/Nixon, Fallaci comes off as little more than a staged version of a Lifetime network biopic.

Through April 21 at Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley (easily accessible by BART). Call 510-647-2949 for tickets or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.