‘American Hero’ A Dynamic and Hard-Hitting Look at Injustice

(L to R:) Laiona Michelle, Armand Schultz and Kally Duling in “American Hero” at George Street Playhouse, January 30 – February 25, 2018. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

The George Street Playhouse continues their current season with a dynamic play titled America Hero. Written by Christopher Demos-Brown, American Hero is at times terrifying and hard-hitting, but a theatrical experience well worth going to see. There are combat scenes that might be difficult for some to watch. However, they are needed to tell a story of two heroes of a battle that takes place post 9/11 in a Middle Eastern location. Both are members of the U.S. military who distinguish themselves by acts of valor. But only one receives the Metal of Honor.

The play opens with the scene of combat as it is taking place. Rob, a Marine captain, jumps on a grenade and saves many lives by doing so. He gets wounded and begs to be carried out by fellow soldier, Mary, a black woman, who is part of the Army.  Although he is saved, the next scene shows him in a wheelchair. He is back to his civilian life and has become successful with a small chain of stores. His daughter, Shawn, lives with him as she prepares to enter the Air Force Academy. There are several scenes which also show the preparations made to get Rob the Medal of Honor. The captain who speaks with Rob asks him about Mary. Mary is Army whereas Rob is a Marine. The desire to present the Medal to a Marine over an Army person becomes obvious. Rob also mentions information about Mary that lets the other man know she is a lesbian. Not much is said at the time about this collection of information but the play starts to show a cover-up at work.

The actions of both Rob and Mary are deserving of the Medal of Honor. Why does one get it over the other? The discovery of the cover up occurs when Mary comes to visit Rob. It leads to a treacherous conclusion. You will want to scream about the injustices taking place. That’s how strong this play is.

Director David Saint does an amazing job with American Hero in creating tension throughout the play. This tension gives a final flashback scene the power it needs to connect all the unspoken words and actions. Mary’s fate and the life that Rob prepares to lead all tie in to that flashback. The vividness of that scene is very intense. The final outcome shows the life that Rob leads. Although it does not involve violence, it is frightening in its own right.

Production Manager Christopher J. Bailey and Production Stage Manager Nicole Kuker do a remarkable job of staging American Hero. Using a set design by Jason Simms, the stage moves easily from the combat scene to become Rob’s home. The background scenery continues to show the devastation from the war-torn,  rocky area. Keeping that background onstage demonstrates that the memories from these war events are always in the minds of these people influencing what they do.

Also a part of the creative team are costume design by David Murin and  lighting design by Christopher J. Bailey.  Sound design is by Scott Killian and fight direction by Rick Sordelet.

A very strong cast includes John Bolger as Captain and others, Kally Duling as Shawn, Laiona Michelle as Mary, and Armand Schultz as Rob. Their acting is absolutely superb. This cast along with the creatives gives the audience an unforgettable theatrical experience.

American Hero is the second part of trilogy from playwright Christopher Demos-Brown. The first part of the trilogy, American Son, ran at George Street Playhouse last season. American Son is scheduled to open on Broadway in November, 2018.

additional information for american hero

Running Time: 95 minutes, no intermission

Location: George Street Playhouse, 103 College Farm Road in New Brunswick

Performances: Playing now through Feb. 2, 2018

Contact for Info and Tickets: Visit the George Street Playhouse website at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org, or call the box office at 732-246-7717.

Audience: Prepare for strong language and mature subject matter.

‘The Outsider’ Humorously Examines Political Office

‘The Outsider’ at Paper Mill Playhouse; Photo by Jerry Dalia; from left to right: Manoel Felciano (Dave Riley) and Lenny Wolpe (Ned Newley).

There’s no doubt about it, The Outsider is one of the funniest shows you will see this year. Playing now through Feb. 18th at the Paper Mill Playhouse, this comedy is all about politics and the people who are a part of it. Written by David Slade Smith in 2015, the atmosphere of politics was not as rowdy as it is right now. After the events of the past few years, The Outsider gives audiences a chance to laugh at a fictitious depiction of someone who is thrust into office but does not want to be there. It is a very well-done production with a funny, yet rewarding story line and an excellent cast.

Under the very competent direction of David Esbjornson, the play begins right after a swearing in ceremony for governor.  The Lieutenant Governor, Ned Newley, takes office after a resignation by the current governor due to misconduct with a beauty pageant contestant. Ned feels he not suited for the job.  He is an idea man and hard worker behind the scenes. But he is nervous facing cameras and crowds. Newley’s Chief of Staff, Dave Riley, is concerned about a special election. He thinks Ned’s reluctance to go on camera or speak to crowds hinders his chances of winning. Enter Paige Caldwell who is a zealous pollster to help out. Dave also needs some staff as there is no one working in the governor’s office. So he brings in a temp, Louise Peakes and the fun begins. Louise has no idea how to answer phones, type, or do any other office tasks. She also has no recognition of her lack of skills. She only lasts a day at every job she has. When you watch her trying to do something, you will see why.

Photo by Jerry Dalia; from left to right: Burke Moses (Arthur Vance) and Julia Duffy (Paige Caldwell).

Unexpectedly, Arthur Vance, a high level political consultant who is on CNN every election night arrives. He is determined to find the “worst person in politics.” He believes he has struck gold with Ned Newly. He sets out to get Ned ready for the special election and works with Paige. When tv reporter Rachel Parsons conducts Ned’s first interview as governor, Vance preps him with sound bites on cards. But an even funnier thing happens during the interview which changes everything. It can be said that things look rather bad at that point. However, a very satisfying conclusion is reached at least for Ned Newly. Suffice it to say Louise (Lulu) also gets an amazing ending finally landing a job. Let’s just leave it at that. You will laugh when you hear what it is.

Photo by Jerry Dalia; from left to right: Kelley Curran (Rachel Parsons), Erin Noel Grennan (Louise Peakes) and Lenny Wolpe (Ned Newley).

Playwright Paul Slade Smith  incorporates loads of humor into the story.  On Opening Night, the audience laughed continuously. Dialogue is crisp with satire and double meanings to the words which keeps the pace of the show moving along. There are no lull moments; this show runs nearly two hours and it is two hours of laughs.

Casting includes Lenny Wolpe who does a wonderful job playing Ned Newley. Wolpe is expressive without words when showing how nervous Ned starts out, but very eloquent when the real man inside finally emerges. Erin Noel Grennan nearly steals the show as Louise Peaks. Her dry humor approach to her character who is so inept at everything keeps the audience in stitches. Julia Duffy brings the right tone to pollster Paige Caldwell as she calculates how low Newley’s ratings are with the public. Burke Moses is a totally believable political consultant. His swagger and precise delivery of what is really happening as Arthur Vance are quite convincing. Manoel Feliciano plays Dave Riley with a quiet concern for his boss, the new governor. And to his credit, his continual belief in the man finally shows through in the end. Kelley Curran plays television reporter Rachel Parsons who gets the scoop of the year during her interview with Ned and Louise but wisely shows a reporter with some scruples. Mike Houston rounds out the cast as A.C. Petersen, the member of television film crew who says very little but makes it count when he does.

Additional Information for ‘The outsider’

Running Time: 2 hours plus one 15 minute intermission

Location: The Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ

Performances: The Outsider will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. The performance schedule is Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 1:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.

Contact for Info and Tickets: Tickets and additional information are available at Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.PaperMill.org.

Suggested Audience: Suitable for all, especially people who like to laugh.

For information on special performances, check this article about the show.


‘The Outsider’ Begins East Coast Premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse

The Outsider at Paper Mill Playhouse; Photo by Jerry Dalia; from left to right: Lenny Wolpe (Ned Newley), Kelley Curran (Rachel Parsons) and Erin Noel Grennan (Louise Peakes).

The Paper Mill Playhouse begins the East Coast premiere run of a new play titled The Outsider this week. Written by Paul Slade Smith with direction by David Esbjornson, The Outsider runs at the Millburn theater through Sunday, February 18, 2018.  Press notes describe the show as follows:

“In politics, the less you know, the higher you’ll go! At once a razor-sharp satire and an inspirational tribute to democracy, The Outsider is a timely and hilarious send-up of modern American politics. In the midst of a political scandal, Ned Newley, the ultimate policy wonk, is unexpectedly thrust into the position of Governor. A complete unknown, with no political instincts and a paralyzing fear of public speaking, Ned seems destined to fail. But his political consultants see things a little differently: Ned might be the worst candidate to ever run for office. Unless the public is looking for… the worst candidate to ever run for office!”

The cast features Kelley Curran as Rachel Parsons, Julia Duffy as Paige Caldwell, Manoel Felciano as Dave Riley, Erin Noel Grennan as Louise Peakes, Mike Houston as A.C. Petersen, Burke Moses as Arthur Vance, and Lenny Wolpe as Ned Newley.

The Outsider will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. The performance schedule is Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 1:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. Tickets and additional information are available at Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.PaperMill.org.

In addition to this performance schedule, the Paper Mill Playhouse provides the following:

Audio-described performances on Saturday, February 17, 2018, at 1:30pm and Sunday, February 18, 2018, at 1:30pm. Prior to these performances at noon, the theater will offer free sensory seminars. Sensory seminars offer an opportunity for patrons with vision loss to hear a live, in-depth description of the production elements of the show and hands-on interaction with key sets, props, and costumes.

There will be a sign-interpreted and open-captioned performance on Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 7:00pm.

Free Audience Enrichment Activities

The Conversation Club takes place on Thursday evenings, January 25, February 1, 8 and 15, one hour before curtain for an informal, informative gathering. You’ll learn more about the performance you’re about to see.

The Director’s Viewpoint: One hour before curtain at 6:00pm on Wednesday, January 24, a pre-show discussion is held in the Renee Foosaner Art Gallery.

Q&A with the Cast: After the matinee on Saturday, February 17, stick around for a lively Q&A with cast members directly following the performance.

Enjoy this preview of the show: