Paul Slade Smith’s razor sharp, incisive “The Outsider” has its East Coast Premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse and for all, on every side of the aisle, this is a mordant commentary on how we choose whom we choose to represent us locally and nationally. This is finger-on-the-pulse stuff and you need to clear your calendar and find a date with your (running) mate to see this brilliant political satire.
This scenario could be ripped from the headlines–charismatic governor steps down due to an overarching mis-step in his personal life. The lieutenant governor Ned Newley (Lenny Wolpe) is rock solid on policy, budget, progress–everything that would appeal to a thinking constituency. But Ned is sadly deficient in desire to be around people—any people—and that could be a real limitation for a state governor. You can imagine the challenge it is for his chief of staff, Dave Riley (Manoel Felciano), whose field promotion currently makes him the new Governor’s ONLY staff! Dave brings in a ringer, pollster Paige Caldwell (Julia Duffy), who is the consummate political operative. Savvy and laser sharp, Paige is the first thought Dave had and, while they are nearly diametrically opposed in view, it’s good to have the Devil you know in your corner.
The second hire Dave makes is an executive assistant, Louise Peakes (Erin Noel Grennan), who is a madcap Ms. Malaprop, who makes you hope the state insurance plan has a hearing screening. Somewhere between the ears and the brain, there’s a longer path than for most folk that makes for sheer comic genius.
Paige’s first hire is the suave and stylish Arthur Vance (Bukre Moses). Everything that Ned is not, Arthur is. He works in the clay of politicians just as Michelangelo sculpted in marble and he is confident he can create an image for the benighted Ned from the raw material he sees before him.
The only thing missing now is the fourth estate and being in the modern era, it is all about image, media, and articulating a position. Enter ace reporter Rachel Parsons (Kelley Curran) and her taciturn camera operator AC Peterson (Mike Houston). Rachel is as sharp and incisive as Paige, and, while she’s always looking for the angle on the story, she cares about what’s real. AC is destined to be pals with Ned: they share the same Neanderthal grunt-language and desire to do what they do, and then step back from the world. What happens between them in the second act is truly beautiful.
Just when we thought that perhaps the last Mr./Ms. Smith had long ago gotten to Washington, and only media can rule the day, Paul Slade Smith writes the perfect play. David Esbjornson’s direction is a moving, swirling interplay of philosophical positions and beautifully antic moments, with a comically gifted task. You will laugh out loud at some of the witticisms that are so on the mark, that you don’t know you’ve been tagged until moments later. You will be pondering several of the moments long after leaving the theatre and this is a perfect early Valentine for your politically minded friends.
“The Outsider” plays through February 18.. Get your tickets now at the Box Office or online at www.PaperMill.org
to see a serious satire of the American political system that you need to share on all sides of the aisle.