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Philip Dorian


"The Outsider" at the Paper Mill Playhouse

"The Outsider" at the Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Dr., Millburn, NJ 07041
Now through February 18, 2018
Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 1:30 and 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 1:30 and 8pm, Sundays at 1:30 and 7pm
Tickets ($34) at (973) 376-4343 or www.papermill.org.

As if we needed a reminder about the difference between governaning and politicking, along comes "The Outsider," running through February 18 at Paper Mill Playhouse. The chasm that exists between those two concepts is old news (and hardly fake), but Paul Slade Smith's farcical romp puts a quirky spin on it.

"The Outsider" at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo courtesy of the Paper Mill Playhouse.

When the governor of an un-named state is forced to retire (the usual reason), his Lieutenant Governor is revealed as a mumbling fumbler. Ned Newley (Lenny Wolpe) appears not only to be incompetent, but also incapable of coherent communication in a public forum, but he is actually a policy wonk with a firm grasp on budgets, infra-structure and other facets of statewide government. The bumbler-cum fiscal whiz is acted to a tee by Wolpe, whose familiar visage has never been more pliable, and it is no surprise that Governor Newley's brand of governmental accountability eventually triumphs.

What makes the civics lesson palatable is how deftly written, acted and directed (by David Esbjornson) it is. The climactic mini-lecture is drawn out of Newley in a believable way. What makes the play about more than just that lesson are the characters that surround Newley, especially Louise "LuLu" Peakes, a totally inept office temp, played to a ripe comic turn by Erin Noel Grennan.

The ditsy LuLu becomes a central political figure in spite of herself. She dwells in non-sequitur land, where her out-of-left-field responses place her squarely in the sights of political image-master Arthur Vance (Burke Moses), who grooms her for greater things. LuLu actually conning the electorate might have been a ludicrous over-reach a year or so ago, but today? Not so much. Someone says of LuLu, "She's got great energy," which applies twice over to the fiery red-headed Ms. Grennan.

In other roles, Julia Duffy is an efficient pollster, and Manoel Felciano and Kelly Curran play the Governor's chief of staff and a TV newswoman, between whom a bland budding romance is chemistry-deprived. Mike Houston stands out as a gruff TV cameraman who becomes the unlikely catalyst for Ned Newley's emergence from the political-puppet closet.

Mr. Smith's play is really a live-action sitcom, but buoyed by Mr. Wolpe's skillful take on the Governor's dual personas and Ms. Grennan's scene-stealing (hell, play-stealing) LuLu, "The Outsider" is worth stashing the remote and getting yourself to Paper Mill.


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