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A CurtainUp NJ Review
The Outsider
Gosh, I love this country — Louise
Photo: L. to R. Kelley Curran, Erin Noel Grennan, Lenny Wolpe (photo credit: Jerry Dalia)
The best way to describe Paul Slade Smith's The Outsider, now having its East Coast premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse, would be to call it an entertaining political farce. I suspect that we are all getting a little overwhelmed by the blasts of dark comedy that come to us regularly on the nightly news by way of Washington the analytical perspectives of late-night TV pundits. If that is true, I recommend spending a couple of hours enjoying every minute of this new play about a newly ensconced governor who is too competent for the job and too terrible a communicator.

Using a script that purposefully has no regard for plausibility, a company of expert farceurs appear committed to keeping the Paper Mill's audiences laughing louder and longer than they have in a long time. The hilariously inane banter and the onslaught of one funny situation after another unravels perfectly under the precise direction of David Esbjornson.

Ned Newley (a delightfully deadpan Lenny Wolpe) is a brilliant but low-key lieutenant governor who suddenly finds himself in charge when the governor elect gets the boot for sleeping with the runner-up of a beauty pageant. Despite his stammering and stuttering and his being totally at sea when facing the public, Newley has a full understanding for balancing budgets as well as having a genuine comprehension for the workings of the American Government and the Democratic process.

Newley's main ally is the resolute chief of staff Dave Riley (Manoel Felciano) who desperately wants him to shape up and project an appealing public image in order to avoid a special election. His strategy includes getting the help of a savvy polster Page Caldwell (Julia Duffy) and a seasoned political consultant Arthur Vance (an imposing Burke Moses) to give Newley the needed confidence in front of the TV cameras.

Using Newley's insecurities and worst characteristics as its chief asset, Duffy and Vance's goal is to make him appear as the people's choice. But things get quickly out-of-hand with the arrival of Louise Peakes (Erin Noel Grennan), who has been hastily hired as a temp to serve as the Governor's assistant. Louise turns out to be the dizziest and most incompetent assistant anyone could imagine. Yet she surprisingly becomes an asset to the campaign.

As foolish as it sounds, Smith's comedy gets right to the heart of selling an untypical politician to the public through the power of the media. But below the surface in plain sight, we are also led to seeing how the probability of competence is able to rise to the top in a Democratic society.

A pleasing secondary plot involves Rachel Parsons (Kelley Curran) an attractive reporter who becomes as nonplussed by the ensuing chaos as she is by her unexpected interest in the equally flummoxed Riley who can't believe what is happening. Kudos also to Rachel's grunting cameraman well played by Mike Houston. The office of the governor gets what you would expect from the excellent scenic designer Michael Schweikardt. In this very funny play, it's the characters who inhabit it who give us much more than we expect.

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The Outsider by Paul Slade Smith
Directed by David Esbjornson

Cast: Julia Duffy (Paige Caldwell), Manoel Felciano (Dave Riley), Erin Noel Grennan (Louise Peaks), Lenny Wolpe (Ned Newley), Burke Moses (Arthur Vance), Kelley Curran (Rachel Parsons), Mike Houston (A.C. Petersen)
Scenic Design: Michael Schsweikardt
Costume Design: Elizabeth Hope-Clancy
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Production Stage Manager: Mark A. Stys
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey (973) 376-4343
Tickets: $34.00 and up
Performances: 7:30 pm Wednesday, 1:30 and 7:30 pm. Thursday, 8 pm Friday, 1:30 and 8 pm. Saturday, 1:30 and 7 pm. Sunday.
From 01/24/18 Opened 01/28/18 Ends 02/18/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/28/18

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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