When a sex scandal forces the current governor to resign, Lt. Governor Ned Newly is sworn in as the new governor. Ned is a whiz in administration and government functions, but has crippling social anxiety and low self-confidence so he comes off as an idiot in public. After seeing his wretched swearing in ceremony, a famed political advisor decides he can make Newly into a political superstar by presenting him as the worst candidate in history. This is The Outsider by Paul Slade Smith and is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.
This is one of the most insightful comedies I’ve ever seen and one of the best productions mounted by Bellevue Little Theatre. Smith’s script is an apt commentary on the modern political climate where the public seems obsessed with celebrity status instead of competence and focuses more on the sizzle instead of the steak. Newly is the official people actually need since he truly is good at his job, but his advisor wants to present him as a dope because he believes that is the official that people actually want since a candidate should be just as clueless as the public according to his philosophy.
Marya Lucca-Thyberg has supplied an ace piece of direction for this show. She keeps her actors briskly moving about the stage to keep the energy of the show up (though the pace of tonight’s show needed a bit of quickening) and the staging is of excellent quality especially with the visual gags and reactions of her performers. Lucca-Thyberg also guided her actors to fairly effective and strong performances.
Strong supporting performances were supplied by Mike Pilmaier as a laconic cameraman who serves as the voice of the American people who has lost faith in government and is weary of politics in its current state. Sara Scheidies also gives a fine performance as an effective and efficient pollster who enjoys the current state of politics, but understands that the people deserve something better.
Louise Peakes has one fewer brain cell than an amoeba. It is a one note character (possibly a parody of Sarah Palin), but Sarah Dighans plays it for everything its worth. Dighans comes off as a blithering dolt, but at least she’s happy and enthusiastic. She’s the epitome of America’s fascination with the sizzle as she only spouts pithy phrases and makes pie in the sky promises. The difference is that she’s wholly sincere. She isn’t out to manipulate the public for any selfish gain. She’s just eminently unqualified and, if elected, would simply be the blind leading the blind.
Matthew Bell is pitch perfect as Arthur Vance, the famed political advisor. Bell’s Vance is the P.T. Barnum of politics because for him it’s all about the show. Without question, Vance has a lot of political savvy, but he tends to misuse that savvy as he’s more fixated on the win than the quality of the candidate. Clearly he has a low opinion of the voters as his intention is to give them candidates that either are or appear to be stupid because he thinks that’s what they want. Bell does an admirable job in keeping Vance somewhat likable as he really isn’t a bad person. He’s just so caught up in politics that he’s forgotten what is the true purpose of government.
Brennan Thomas gives an absolutely flawless performance as Ned Newly. Thomas presents Newly as a man virtually paralyzed by social anxiety with his inability to speak when around strangers and his palpable fear at public speaking of any type. With his hunched shoulders and limbs pulled into his body, Thomas always resembles a coiled spring ready to snap at the slightest sound. His reactions and vocal effects are hilarious, but he also brings real intelligence and heart to the character. Newly wants what is best for the people and has ideas and plans to get there, but has been forced to work from the shadows since he lacks the charisma to be the face of the party.
Joey Lorincz has assembled yet another top notch set as the Governor’s office has a real sense of authority with its imposing size, elegant balcony doors, and fine furniture. Nancy Buennemeyer clothes the characters to their personalities from the flashy and expensive suit of Arthur Vance to Newly’s more sedate and professional suit to the bright blue dress to match the perky personality of Louise Peakes. Sam Bass did some fine sound design from the beeps of an intercom to a soundtrack featuring classic rock hits.
If you want a clear idea of the difference between politics and leadership, then this is the play for you. It’s funny. It’s truthful. And it gives you a lot to think about. One never knows. Perhaps a future leader may be watching this show and be inspired to be the leader we need and not the leader we think we want.
The Outsider will run through May 16 at Bellevue Little Theatre. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $20 ($18 for seniors, $10 for students) and reservations can be made at http://bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com/reservations.html. Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.