It’s always interesting when a season is rounded out with a previously unfamiliar title, and in the case of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's season-ender, it’s Paul Slade Smith’s politically themed The Outsider.
Luckily, it doesn’t matter so much if you like/follow politics for this particular production, as this comedy is satirical and doesn’t seem to lean any which way, except to poke spectacular fun at politicians, advisors, and the average voter equally. On Saturday, director Dennis Hitchcock’s small cast handled the material with great comedic timing and a certain joie de vivre that embodied the everyman and woman of government.
The Outsider opens nearly immediately following Ned (Brad Hauskins) being “sworn in” as governor of Vermont. There’s a story there explaining why I'm using quotation marks on “sworn in,” but I think it would ruin the fun to tell you more about it. Considered a political “outsider,” Ned used to be Lieutenant Governor, but his predecessor was swept up in a scandal. To be fair, while scandals involving politicians seem absolutely commonplace nowadays, everything else in this fictitious tale was just meant to be ridiculous and funny – and it capably landed its comedic mark.
Ned’s chief-of-staff Dave, played by the straightforward and sweet Bobby Becher, is the least ridiculous of all the characters: Someone in this world of over-the-top stereotypes had to be. Becher was great when paired with Hauskins’ meek and bumbling Ned. It was evident that these two actors work exceptionally well together, and their easy demeanor toward each other was especially nice when they were the only pair onstage. Scenic designer Becky Meissen created a lovely office for the governor in which awkward Ned seemed right at home and ready to get to work … as long as he doesn’t need to speak on television again. You see, Ned gets a little nervous sometimes. And who could have anticipated such an inelegant guy becoming governor?
This experienced pair sought the help of pollster Paige, enacted by the beautiful Elsa Besler. Paige ends up connecting Ned and Dave with a television political consultant, Arthur (Cory Boughton), who's ever-so-smarmy and full of crazy ideas that don’t jive well with the plans Ned and Dave have for their office. The bottom line is that Ned is honestly a good guy who simply wants to do right by his constituents. Unexpectedly, Arthur’s plan devolves to include the inept Louise (Kim Bogus), who was sent by the temp agency to help cover the receptionist duties for the new governor.
Louise, known to her friends as Lulu, is written to be an idiot who has never kept a job longer than a day. That one-note comedic fodder is funny for a few minutes. However, it does grow tedious as the evening wears on. While Bogus does a phenomenal job playing wide-eyed idiocy to the peak of ludicrousness, Smith's script unfortunately offers absolutely zero depth to the character, making her less endearing than I think is perhaps wise. Although Hitchcock staged Arthur's “card system” for Louise very well and the bit was pretty funny, I felt that Smith simply wrote Louise to behave more and more absurd throughout the story, which became less and less funny as the night unfolded.
Poor Louise also suffered from being the dumpy-looking one on stage all night, because Bradley Robert Jensen’s costumes were otherwise absolutely lovely. Besler looked especially classy in both her first- and second-act outfits, and the gentlemen were also smartly dressed, reflective of their prominent political roles. I'm not sure if it was due to Heather Hauskins’ lighting design, but Louise’s second-act outfit inexplicably matched her hair color, which seemed to me an odd choice. There was also a particular lighting spot on Saturday that made the hair of reporter Rachel (Taylor Fryza) appear as though it had blue highlights. After some consideration, my companion and I decided that Fryza didn't actually sport blue hair. But later, we noticed that Besler appeared to be wearing two different-colored loafers around that same stage spot. So lighting-wise, something curious and weird was happening there.
In the meantime – oh, that all journalists would be as kind as Rachel! She and Dave hit it off, and even cameraman AC (James Major Burns) has more to give to the audience than he originally lets on. It’s kind of a plot twist you can clearly see coming, but it doesn’t change the sweetness when it does. I can’t imagine that audiences are venturing out to see The Outsider for an in-depth look at American politics, so director Hitchcock's lighthearted, feel-good comedy spoof delivers exactly the amusing, diverting experience people no doubt want from their evening out. If you’ve already become a bit sick of political commercials on television – and you’re perhaps looking for welcome break from real-life drama and seriousness – then The Outsider offers a great alternative.
The Outsider runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island IL) through October 29, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 and visiting Circa21.com.