Reviewed by George Basler

BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier) is pulling off a minor miracle with its latest production, The Outsider, which opened Jan. 26  for a two-weekend run at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott: It’s making politics funny.

Imagine a political comedy that pokes fun at the foibles of politicians without resorting to mean-spiritedness. Imagine a comedy that is laugh-out-loud funny while also slipping in an idealistic message about American democracy.

That may not be miraculous, but in this day and age, when politics feels overwhelmed by cynicism and rancor, it’s a welcome throwback to the days when people could laugh at political hijinks without sullenly retreating into warring camps.

Much of the credit goes to playwright Paul Slade Smith whose work includes Unnecessary Farce, a hit in regional theaters. The Outsider, first produced in 2015, is filled with farcical elements, including an outrageous plot. At the same time, it avoids any hint of partisanship. The only thing The Outsider wants to provoke is outright belly laughs in Republicans and Democrats alike.

The plot centers on Ned Newley (Gary Neal Hansen), the lieutenant governor of an unnamed state, who is reluctantly thrust into the job of governor when his predecessor is forced to leave office because of a sex scandal.

Ned must win a special election to stay in office. The only problem is that, while Ned is a skilled administrator, he is so painfully shy that he resembles a deer in the headlights when he appears on television for his swearing-in ceremony.

His only staffers are in despair. Paige Caldwell (Hillori Schenker), his somewhat jaded pollster, wants to get Ned back on television quickly to repair the damage. Dave Riley (Isaac Weber), his loyal and idealistic chief of staff, wants the exact opposite.

All seems hopeless until Arthur Vance (John Montgomery), a veteran political strategist, shows up to lend a hand with his political razzle dazzle. While Paige and Dave foresee disaster, Vance sees a golden political opportunity, because he can sell Ned as a common man, an average Joe, whom voters will love because of his seeming befuddlement.

Other characters are Louise “Lulu” Peakes (Stefanie Willette), a ditsy young woman who is hired to be a receptionist even though she is eminently unqualified for the job; Rachel Parsons (Alondra Hughes), a television reporter who longs to be hard-nosed news person, not a talking head, and A.C. (Jackson Bailey), Rachel’s taciturn cameraman.

The BLAST cast members, under the direction of Kate Murray, give comic performances that are total gems. They mesh perfectly as an ensemble and never overplay The Outsider’s many funny lines, which makes them even funnier. They also provide moments of fine physical comedy.

The glue of the production is Hansen’s first-rate performance as Ned Newley. The character begins the play as a stock comic character, with timid body movements and a milquetoast attitude that Hansen plays well.

But Ned evolves through the course of the play and shows real strength at the end when he delivers a heartfelt speech on what government, at its best, can mean to people. Hansen shows the transition through subtle changes in body language and vocal tone. He makes it believable.

Weber, as Ned’s trustworthy aide, strikes just the right mixture of comic exasperation and idealism. He and Schenker, as the pollster, play well off each other and draw their share of laughs.

Montgomery gives a suitably understated performance as the slick political consultant. The moments in which he coaches Ned on how to spout insipid, nonsensical answers to all questions are played with superb comic gusto. Montgomery also gets to utter some of The Outsider’s more stinging lines about a disengaged electorate all too willing to be wooed by slogans and simplistic bromides.

Hughes is ingratiating as the hard-charging reporter, and Bailey makes the most of his smaller role as the cameraman. The character’s short speech toward the end of the play on why he finds politics meaningless is well played as one of The Outsider’s serious moments.

Finally, Willette strikes comic gold as the muddled Lulu Peakes, whose glorious incompetence sparks some of the play’s funniest moments. The character is certainly a stereotype, but Willette gives her a kooky energy that is endearing. (Think of a young Goldie Hawn on the old Laugh In television show.)

The Outsider deliberately avoids offending anyone or raising any hackles., and it ends on a hopeful note. That, unfortunately, makes it feel a bit musty in our current political climate, which has become even more toxic and angry in the nine years since the play debuted.

But, if you’re ready to laugh (and aren’t we all?), you won’t be disappointed. Even born cynics won’t be able to avoid cracking a smile.

IF YOU GO: The Outsider finishes its two-weekend run Feb. 2-4 at the Cider Mill Stage. 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; the Sunday matinee is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets at $28 may be purchased by visiting or by calling the box office at 607-321-9630.