BROWNSTOWN — Ned Newley doesn’t want to be governor.
He’s terrified of public speaking, his poll numbers are in the basement and his ever-supportive chief of staff, Dave Riley, thinks he’s destined to fail in a recall.
Ned was lieutenant governor when a scandal forced the governor to resign, and he now must step into the spotlight.
His first speech as the new governor of a small state was possibly the worst speech in history. It’s then the job of Dave and his pollster, Paige Caldwell, to do damage control, and one of the best political consultants in the country, Arthur Vance, tries to make Ned into a successful politician when nothing could be further from Ned’s wishes.
With a colorful cast of supporting characters, however, the transition of Ned unfolds from an outsider to the face of the state.
Paul Slade Smith’s “The Outsider” is Jackson County Community Theatre’s 2022-23 season opener. The political comedy, being directed by John Boyken, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 and 24 at Royal Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown.
Bob Clark plays the main role of Ned. Before auditioning for his first JCCT show, he took a 17-year hiatus from being onstage.
“Ned, he’s a lovable guy. He tries hard, but he’s scared of the public, scared of people, and that’s not good for his position,” Clark said. “But his best friend and his crutch is Dave, and he would not be able to do this without him constantly thinking, ‘Where’s Dave?’ He really wants the best for people. His thought about government is that it’s something we do together that no one can do on their own, and that just is the way he wants it to work.”
Smith presents this comedy so it won’t rile up anyone on either side of the blue/red divide.
“One of the things that I like best about it is the laughs and everything you need are in the script,” Clark said. “Sometimes, you look at a script and you go, ‘We need some good actors here because the laughs and the moments aren’t in the script,’ but they are on this one. It’s really well written, and I like that. It’s hopeful, and hopefully, we can get some people like Dave and Ned, maybe not Lulu, in government.”
Starting in his new role, Dave is the lone member of Ned’s staff.
“He is just the worst public speaker,” Zach Thompson, who plays the role of Dave, said of Ned. “The former governor was just the mouth. The new governor knows how to do everything, just can’t talk publicly, so everyone thinks he’s just incompetent.”
To get Ned comfortable with everything, Dave brings in some help, starting with former coworker Paige. Arthur then contacts Paige and enters the picture.
“That help turns into trying to make everyone believe that (Ned) is dumb because that’s the whole thing now is that people don’t want somebody that’s a good politician. They want somebody who seems just like them,” Thompson said. “I’m not real thrilled with that idea, but that seems to be the popular one, so I just dragged along for the ride.”
Paige learns from Dave that Ned has been doing all of the work for the previous governor for years.
“(Dave) brought me in because we worked together previously, and he didn’t really like me, but he knows I’m smart,” said Michelle Elkins, who plays the role of Paige. “I come in to try to do the polling and find what the numbers are, where we can improve. Arthur Vance contacts me, and I bring him in to work with Ned, and he’s the one who sets the whole stage for the interviews and campaigns.”
Larry Hartley said his character, Arthur, is there to “turn that poor thing (Ned) into the greatest politician in America.”
“He’s all political. He’s 100%. That’s just where I fit in, and I come swooping in,” he said. “Whenever I come in, you’ll notice if you’re watching in the play that I’m all talk.”
The next person added to the staff is Louise “Lulu” Peakes, a bubbly new temp brought on to be Ned’s secretary.
“She’s mostly comic relief. She’s every energetic. She’s completely incompetent and kind of knows it but also is OK with that,” Amanda Dick said of her character.
“I think it’s just such a big departure from my real life in that I have to be competent and all of those things (as a general surgeon at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour),” she said. “Being able to play a character like this, it’s just fun. It has been fun to play with it and figure it out and see how she’s actually going to be out there.”
The other characters are Rachel Parsons, a sarcastic television reporter who has covered enough politics that to her, everything is pretty much a pitiful joke, and A.C. Peterson, Rachel’s cameraman, a common Joe and a quiet voice of reason and wisdom.
“Rachel has been covering the news in the area for entirely too long and has to deal with all of the aftermath of the most recent governor and is mostly annoyed by having to cover the new governor,” Brinna Sharp said of her character. “I really like being able to play off of the other characters because since they do a lot of interview scenes, I have to react to a lot of the things other people are saying, which is a lot of fun.”
The actors agreed they like how Smith wrote this political comedy without favoring one party over the other.
“It’s optimistic about the future based on the government without being politically leaning one way or the other. That’s tough to do these days, and this show does it really well,” Thompson said.
“I just like it because it’s fun. It’s not left or right leaning. It’s a political satire, and it’s funny,” Elkins said. “I’ve had people ask me ‘Is this political?’ ‘No, it’s not,’ and I really like that. I think anybody from any side can come and still have fun.”
Sharp said it’s very good at balancing between being political and entertaining without taking away from either of those aspects.
“It’s written to be an everyman show, so no matter what side you’re on, you can still see yourself in the characters,” she said.
Dick said the show could be of the moment at any time period in American politics.
“I have a hard time seeing anybody being offended by anything, and that’s not the point,” she said. “It’s more of a gentle, funny illumination of some of the shenanigans that happen in modern-day politics.”
If you go
What: Jackson County Community Theatre’s 2022-23 season opener, “The Outsider”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 and 24
Where: Royal Off-the-Square Theatre, 121 W. Walnut St., Brownstown
Cost: $12 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens; available online at jcct.org, at Artistic Impressions in Seymour or Ewing Unique Boutique in Brownstown or by calling 812-358-5228
Director: John Boyken
Production manager: John Hardaway
Sound: Gavin Grimes
Stagehand: Dylan Bridges
Set construction: Joel McGill and John Hardaway
Cast: Bob Clark, Michelle Elkins, Zach Thompson, Amanda Dick, Larry Hartley, Brinna Sharp and Paul Angle