“The Outsider” at Curtain Call Theatre Making Its Capital Region Premiere is a Comic Gem
Curtain Call Theatre has done the work, discovering a hilarious new comedy and staging it in a great production with a peerless cast. “The Outsider” by Paul Slade Smith, is about a governor of an unnamed state who has been run out of office because of a sex scandal. His very accomplished accountant of a lieutenant governor is elevated to the top job, but he is sadly lacking in the show biz aspect of the political side. In fact, at his garbled swearing in ceremony, the only words intelligible were “Help me God.”
As the play begins, we are dropped into full crisis mode as the governor’s assistant Dave (Ian LaChance, superb as usual) and his pollster Paige (a most efficient Emily Fernandes with great reactions) bicker over whether to put the new Governor Ned Newly (the nebbishy Rich Angehr) back on TV after the morning’s botched swearing in ceremony. The State House is up in arms and will soon be visited by a media consultant (crafty Sky Vogel enjoying the havoc he’s wreaking) intrigued by this morning’s performance, the investigative journalist Rachel Parsons (Jennifer Van Iderstyne, smooth, silky and nobody’s fool), her cameraman A.C. Peterson (the surly, wounded and surprising Isaac Scranton) and most importantly a clueless temp to cover the front desk, Louise Peakes (Sara Paupini giving an extraordinarily hilarious performance).
The interview goes forward. Louise elbows her way onscreen and steals all the eyeballs with her empty bromides. The focus group responses, polling numbers, and Dave’s blood pressure go through the roof.
The play is about the battle for public approval between competency-the hard, boring work of balanced budget governance, and the vacuous salesmanship of campaigning. The temp, Louise, who cannot figure out the office phone is somehow elevated to Lieutenant Governor on her first day of work by 91% of the people believing she is real because “she’s just like us.” “The things she says even when they make no sense, you believe them.” Oh, she’s real alright.
Artistic Director Carol Max has done the work finding this play, new to me, and producing its Capital Region Premiere. The Governor’s office is a very attractive set (designed by Rodrigo Hernandez Mtz) which transforms nicely into full campaign mode in the second act. Director Steve Fletcher, who is a Curtain Call master and had an exceptionally touching family drama about end of life issues just this spring with “Old Love, New Love,” directs the laugh out loud funniest production I have ever seen from him.
It all makes sense because the comedy flows from the characters and the situations, and although there are physical set-ups like the two on-camera interviews, the humor comes from the character’s honest reactions to the circumstances which Fletcher is so good at. He has a gift for simplifying, clarifying and highlighting character’s actions that make them ring true on stage which is put to glorious use in this show.
The heavy lifting, day-in-day-out drudgery of showing up, learning lines and breathing life into words on the page is handled by the impeccably cast group of seven actors who are having an absolute ball playing this inspired material for very appreciative audiences, a very vocal sold-out house Saturday afternoon. Emily Fernandes and Rich Angehr are making most welcome Curtain Call debuts. The whole cast is well chosen to their roles and they play together like a symphony. They each have a full physical life, eccentric rhythms that don’t slow the quick pace but accentuate the individuality and play together really well.
An unexpected heart-tugging reveal comes late in the show from an unlikely candidate and you feel warmly towards all the people on stage…even if you might not vote for them.
Rich Angehr does a magically great job making efficiency dull as he sidles into a room somehow making it emptier with his presence. Ian LaChance is exasperated from the start as Dave, who believes in Ned but is astounded by the popularity of stupidity. In these times that seems perfectly natural and no one looks better doing it. He finds new and priceless ways to silently scream his dismay at the prospect of this country being turned over to morons with his eye-popping, leaping, head banging performance. Gold.
Most impressive of all is Sara Paupini who is having the time of her life playing a thoroughly original, wide-eyed comic creation with her Lulu-tenant Governor. She charges into a room shoulders and haunches spinning and greets everyone with a strong handshake and a backslap. It had an outrageously forceful, glad-handing, salesman’s good humor made all the more extraordinary coming from this very beautiful woman. Moments into her first scene, the audience is primed for her every utterance, eager to welcome her back and watching that door downstage left to see when it will open again. Brava!
“The Outsider” is a thoroughly winning, delightful double-take on the national conundrum of choosing a candidate and weighing the importance of substance over style…or not. The biggest winners Saturday afternoon, for a brief shining moment, were the voting populace itself. Do yourself and all of us theater lovers a favor and cast a ballot for excellence on local stages in a Capital Region premiere. Attend “The Outsider” at Curtain Call Theatre. I wholeheartedly approve of this message.