In the comedy “The Outsider,” a recent sex scandal propelled a painfully shy but capable lieutenant governor to the state’s highest office. A complete stranger, without political cunning and a crippling fear of public speaking, he is doomed. Where is he?
“It’s hilarious!” says Joanne Greenberg. “Combine that with the fact that this is political satire, not just in an election year but in an election month, and it seems like a synchronicity for sure to make a really wonderful comedy right now.”
Greenberg is directing the Stage Write-Paramount Theater production of the Paul Slade Smith comedy, with performances Nov. 4-13 at Tuttle Hall Theater (formerly College of St. Joseph) in Rutland.
Broadway World describes “The Outsider” as “an insightful, witty satire on modern American politics. Funny, timely and – dare we say – entirely possible.”)
On the show, Ned Newley is a political buff, painfully honest, and built for crunching numbers in quiet rooms, not for dazzling crowds of supporters. So his politically savvy advisers try to “sell” him to the public by completely reinventing his image. But can they?
“The Outsider” caught the attention of Stage Write, a new community theater group in Rutland, as it read plays aloud during the pandemic to keep the company running. Diane Liccardi, its founder and production manager, felt it was a wonderful way to come out of the pandemic with humor.
“Some of the original people who read the play are part of this production, as well as other people who auditioned,” Greenberg said. “It really is the perfect cast for this play. They are really capable of handling comedy skillfully. Comedy is hard to pull off – and they’re awesome!
After teaching acting at U-32 High School for more than 30 years, Greenberg turned to independent filmmaking. She has directed statewide productions at the Chandler Theater Pride Festival in Randolph, the Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, the Phantom Theater in Warren, the Unadilla Theater in Marshfield, the Vermont Actors’ Repertory Theater in Rutland, and her own Green Room Productions, among others.
For Greenberg, “The Outsider” is a successful comedy because it has real bite like political satire should, looking at the weaknesses of our political system.
“But it doesn’t demolish,” she said. “It’s a satire, but it doesn’t destroy the fabric of our society. And, in the end, it’s very affirming, so you laugh, you see the weaknesses in our system, and yet, in the end, you remember the fundamental goodness and honesty of our world. You’re forced to believe it again – which I think is kind of lovely.
The comedy also aims to be non-partisan.
“His satire is something we can all agree on – media manipulation, spin-docs, image distortion,” Greenberg said. “Any member of the public would agree that it’s worth criticizing.”
What makes it particularly effective is that the play is written by an actor.
“We felt that right away in the painting read, that you could tell it was written by an actor because he’s able to recognize the depths and the good qualities in each of the characters,” Greenberg said. “There are no stereotypes, there are no obvious villains, there are no caricatures. There is something in every character that an actor could hold on to play.
“So there’s a kind of generosity in the writing that I really appreciate,” Greenberg said.
Because it’s comedy, each character has laughable qualities.
“But they’re not so extreme that’s all they have to say. They are real people, but they are exaggerated,” Greenberg said. “That’s why I think the cast is really good. They’re able to walk that fine line in terms of exaggeration, but keeping it real and keeping it likable.
Finding a small theater for this kind of intimate performance in Rutland has long been a challenge. Greenberg considered using the Paramount Theater, with the audience and the action on the main stage behind the curtain, but that was too much trouble. The Brick Box is no more, and it was too small anyway.
Greenberg had previously directed at the Tuttle Hall Theater when ART presented a season there.
“It’s hard to work with a space that hasn’t been occupied for a while, but it gives us a lot of leeway,” Greenberg said. “So it was positive for us. It’s ours for a while.
“The scene is pretty cool. The seating capacity is too big, so we will close the outer sections and use the center, like we did for ‘Marjorie Prime’ from (ART),” she said.
“It’s a beautiful space – and it’s super comfortable.”