Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Way Off Broadway Theatre/Prattville: "The Outsider"

With mid-term elections on the doorstep, Prattville's "Way Off Broadway Theatre" is currently skewering the American electorate in Paul Slade Smith's 2015 satire The Outsider, a two act romp performed by an impressive acting ensemble under Melissa Strickland's confident direction.

Set in the present day in the governor's office of an unnamed  small state, and taking care to remain neutral regarding political parties, Smith's script centers on the figure of Ned Newley [Roy Goldfinger], a man who had just been sworn in as governor because the previous incumbent had been ousted for philandering. The problem is that Ned is painfully shy in front of the media, giving the impression that he's incompetent, and his staff attempt to save his administration by coaching him for an immediate media appearance.

Though second in command Dave Riley [Jason Bush] and pollster Paige Caldwell [Ashley Nicole Portis] try their best, with ditzy "temp" secretary Louise Peakes [Stephanie Higley] muddling things up, they are at their wits end, and conscript CNN spin-doctor Arthur Vance [Douglas Dean Mitchell] to take on the task of turning things around.

The challenge is not merely in getting Ned to be comfortable in front of a camera; it's far more contrived than that -- The philosophical issue is focused on what voters want and/or deserve from their elected officials. Do they want "an actual leader who looks like an idiot", or do they regularly vote for and get "an actual idiot who looks like a leader"? We often hear candidates claim that as "outsiders" from the political elite, they are the best candidates. Conversely, voters also say they want experienced candidates. -- Points to ponder these days; and it doesn't matter which side of the political divide you support: finger pointing can be made in both directions.

Into the mix come TV interviewer Rachel Parsons [Kristen VanderWal] and cameraman A. C. Peterson [Drey Nelson] as counterpoints to the main plot who also manage to shed some important light on its serious outcome and messages.

And there are a lot of serious messages amidst the comic mayhem: "People will vote for anyone if they think that person will get them what they want;" often, "people who know nothing about government actually run the government;" "no sane person wants to work in the government;" "government makes a lot of noise;" "most of us view government as something we'll never understand;" and perhaps most importantly, a democracy "government is what all of us collectively have made a decision to do together because we can't do it alone...in order to benefit all of us."

Appearance and reality are regularly at odds in The Outsider. Without giving away the various twists and turns of events -- and there are so many unexpected and outrageously comical elements on display -- audiences are invited to laugh at themselves throughout the fast moving two-and-a-half hours playing time. 

The satirical bite is handled masterfully by this slick ensemble of actors, each of whom defines a memorable persona, establishes convincing relationships that make us care about them, moves with purpose, and articulates the glittering dialogue with credible assurance. 

Provocatively funny, and skillful throughout, The Outsider is a welcome addition to this theatrical season.