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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Outsider’ crackles with satire, inspiration in Menasha

Critic At Large

Basic setup for Attic Chamber Theatre production of “The Outsider.” (Warren Gerds)

MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – A farce with a message – now, there’s a switch.

The mix works beautifully in the Attic Chamber Theatre production of “The Outsider,” fueled by an exceptionally snappy cast.

The play by Paul Slade Smith is running for three more performances in Lucia Baehman Theatre of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus.

The play is about politics and government. That sounds like yawn material, but Paul Slade Smith nimbly maneuvers the topics toward a blend of comedy, farce and satire about what America is seeing today in public office. The beauty is, after Paul Slade Smith lets blood in the pointed satire, he delivers care – rays of brightness about democracy.

I wrote the above paragraph in June 2015 after seeing the world premiere at Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County. Much of what I wrote still stands, though the play’s original title was “A Real Lulu,” such as in this paragraph from the original review:

Seven minutes. The audience of “A Real Lulu” hears that a live TV interview will happen in seven minutes in a governor’s office. What takes place in that slice of time is the crux of the story. From there comes a launch toward destiny for the remarkable comedy by Paul Slade Smith. Mr. Smith deserves to go to Washington – and all around our nation – with this inspirational satire.

The play has gone on to many productions. The one in Menasha is top notch with nimble direction by Dee Savides and brilliant stuff from the cast.

Lobby display. (Warren Gerds)

The setup: Larry Clark (unseen except for his large photo portrait) has been swept out of office as governor of a small state for sleeping with the runner up of a beauty pageant. Gone with him for being complicit in the coverup is his whole staff. Remaining are the lieutenant governor, Ned Newley (Stephen Savides), and his chief of staff, Dave Riley (Shannon Glenn).

First main joke: Newley is not a public animal. He’s a drone who knows his job well and relishes doing it in the background. Newley’s swearing in (not seen) is five minutes of pure panic attack. He is a disaster in public.

Second main joke: Brought in to help with the basics is a temporary secretary, Louise Peaks (Susan Rabideau). Louise is cheerful and confident. She also can’t get names straight, doesn’t know how to operate a telephone system and makes her job title sound like she is assistant governor. That’s just for starters.

Soon part of the action are a pollster (Aubrey Parrish) and a political Mr. Fixit (Scott Crane). They calculate the best way for Newley to not be immediately drummed out of office for his surface incompetence is to promptly make a TV appearance. It’s arranged that the Channel 3 political reporter (Mary Magiera) and her cameraman (Brian Zimmerman) will be on hand. Everything happens rapid fire, going from the ridiculous of satire to the sublime of democracy.

Who the leading player is depends on the moment. Everybody has something important to portray/present.

Shannon Glenn – a perpetual precipice of an aide with a haywire boss.

Stephen Savides – a gifted governmental planner hidden behind shyness.

Scott Crane – a silver-tongued political tactician whose words manipulate others like puppets. The smooth aura of an evangelist may be a Scott Crane creation; it multiplies his effectiveness.

Susan Rabideau – a master of malaprops and hot-and-cold running emotions.

Rachel Parsons – a keen-edged journalist trapped by circumstance.

Paige Caldwell – an efficient, wily player knowing of the political world.

Brian Zimmerman – a stick-to-business TV cameraman who mumble/talks until…

Ahh, spoilers abound in this play. There are many, many surprises.

This and that:

+ Audience members are required to wear a mask for COVID-19 reasons, the players not.

+ Players wear wireless headsets for amplifying lines.

+ With the audience on three sides of the square(ish) stage, the players move a lot to various parts of the stage. The emphasis on this movement – called blocking – is obvious.

+ The theater teems with laughter many, many times. It gets very, very quiet when Paul Slade Smith plays hardball about the political landscape.

+ Another Paul Slade Smith play, “Unnecessary Farce,” also was premiered by Peninsula Players Theatre. It was later presented by Attic Chamber Theatre with Dee Savides directing and Shannon Glenn among the cast. That experience seems to be one of the reasons this production of “The Outsider” is so good.

***

Creative: Playwright – Paul Slade Smith; director – Dee Savides; set and light design – John Dalziel; props – Robert Ernst; stage manager – Ambre Neuser-Gajewski

Cast (in order of appearance)

Paige Caldwell – Aubrey Parrish

Dave Riley – Shannon Glenn

Louise Peakes – Susan Rabideau

Ned Newley – Stephen Savides

Arthur Vance – Scott Crane

Rachel Parsons – Mary Magiera

A.C. Peterson – Brian Zimmerman

Running time: One hour, 40 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Nov. 18-20

Info: attictheatreinc.com

***

NEXT: “Crown Matrimonial” by Royce Ryton, Feb. 10-13, 17-19.

THE VENUE: Lucia Baehman Theatre is a 125-seat, rectangular space in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus (name change as of July 12, 2019) Communication Arts Center. Lined by black stage curtains on each wall, the space serves as a black-box theater. There are no adornments, and the stage and space are adaptable to whatever a production needs. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays. The center opened in 2009.

THE PEOPLE: Lucia Baehman and her husband, Stan, are longtime supporters of theater in the Fox River Valley.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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