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'The Outsider' is hilariously brilliant

When I am wrong, I am really wrong. As it turns out, this remarkable cast does exceptional work. In my defense, let me explain.

As a member of polite society, it was a conscious decision to attend the current show offered at North Coast Repertory Theater called "The Outsider." It's a political spoof. I know, you just want to groan.

After all, have we all not collectively agreed, when amongst strangers, not-to-ever discuss religion or politics?

Therefore, one has to ask, "Self, why purposely go to a show about politics which will possibly incite outrage to one's self or perhaps, the stranger sitting in the neighboring seat or to both of you?"

It could end up a free-for-all.

In today's politically correct environment, doesn't just everybody have something to say about that topic, even those who don't, won't or never will vote? Still you just try and make them stop.

Well, here is the rub. Worse than having to sit through a show that will only make me mad in some small way, my tax dollars have been misspent supporting it; $30 million were set aside in this fiscal year for the arts council, and it trickles down to support local theater.

Imagine if you will, how tiresome it is to discover 20 minutes into a 165-minute show that you won't laugh, smile or feel good for the rest of the day because you are being scolded for some 300-year-old inequity through the eyes of a self-aggrandizing director?

And worse, in some little way, your public tax dollars helped to pay for this very crazy, radical theatrical vision received through public funding. And, believe me, those theaters know who they are.

Which is why, in my defense, when North Coast Repertory announced their 38th season would include a political satire called "The Outsider," one had to wonder why? This theater has been very successful for years and years. Why add controversy in an election year?

In the program, it was explained this way. Brooklyn playwright Paul Slade Smith, while lauded around the world for his insightful work, – do you feel my anxiety mounting? – wrote this show about a disgraced politician and the mayhem that follows in that wake. This introduction sounds like such a familiar storyline.

Even while this current production had a successful run for years and was declared a hit, well, I mean, it ran in New Jersey, and we all know New Jersey is a different political climate than California.

Honestly, I did not want to go to this show. I like North Coast Repertory and the work they do. But. I did not want to sit two and a half hours to be pummeled with political correctness by an over-the-top, self-aggrandizing, smug actor person, speaking down to me in agonizingly diabolical un-American, off-the-wall, radical subversive dialogue.

I ask, would you?

To say my fears were exaggerated is to underestimate how crazy I can get in my head.

As it turns out, "The Outsider" is hilarious. It is current. And for once, everyone agreed on the candidate, even the press.

David Ellenstein directed his way into another sellout show. Each character is fully developed, fulfilling the prophecy that "politics is visual."

Magic happens when performers trust their director and commit to their roles. Here is how the story developed.

Panicked Chief of Staff Dave Riley, played by Christopher M. Williams, is instantly promoted along with the newly ascended Gov. Newley, after scandal forced his predecessor from office.

Dave has never worked on a successful campaign, consequently, feeling ill prepared for his new position. Williams somehow manages to add humanity, humility and humor into his role.

Realizing the missing staff was part of the former cover-up, Dave's first task is to call human resources to send up a temp to answer the phone. Louise Peakes is Jacque Wilke at her best. She is brilliant. Crazy brilliant. Dizzying delightful. It is her best performance to date.

Meanwhile, unprepared to help his self-effacing boss – the newly ascended governor – Dave calls upon former campaign acquaintance and professional pollster Paige Caldwell, played by Shana Wride, to join the staff. She is efficient, expressive and the brains in the bunch. Paige is quick to inform Dave that none other than the famous presidential campaign adviser Arthur Vance is on his way to rescue the situation after the morning's TV debacle.

Louis Lotorto sparkles as the "legendary political hack" Arthur Vance. His character is reminiscent of David Mamet's Conrad Brean, played by Robert DeNiro in the 1998 film "Wag the Dog." Vance swings in to derail the scandal in the governor's office. He is slick down to his double-breasted, sharkskin suit reeking with political slime. He exudes self-assured glib exhibiting unconscionable behavior, you have to love this guy.

It is Vance's job to reimage Ned Newley's reputation after his disastrous swearing-in appearance on local television as the state's new governor. Excruciatingly shy, Newley, who is played by John Seibert, is remarkably inept during his public appearances, yet, has a full handle on the needs of his state.

"He is the guy who should have the job; he just doesn't look like that guy," according to the play.

Newley, being the espoused brains behind the former charismatic governor's policies, though when thrust into the limelight, comes up lacking. It becomes apparent that "rebranding" the new guy is required to prevent a recall election. It is important to line up another television appearance to offset the earlier disastrous one to save everybody's job.

It only takes Vance one call to his manager pal at the local TV station to send TV reporter Rachel Parsons, played by Natalie Storrs, over with a few scripted questions. Sophisticated and sassy, she and cameraman A. C. Peterson, played by Max Macke, help to create a new persona for the self-effacing Newley.

Set designer Marty Burnett created an official headquarters reminiscent of the Oval Office. Matt Novotny scored with his lighting design and Aaron Rumley balanced the sound perfectly. Eliza Benzoni's costume choices are faultless.

North Coast Repertory's "The Outsider" in Solana Beach, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, will play until March 22. It is just a bit over an hour from Fallbrook and boasts lots of free parking. For tickets, call the box office at (858) 481-2155 or visit http://www.northcoastrep.org.

This show sends a strong message as to how the government should be, but it is just one reason to see it. The other is it's a worthy theatrical experience, worth your time and money. The only reason for this rating is because there isn't any tap dancing.

This show is rated a solid 9 out of 10.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected].

 

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