Ethel Barrymore Theatre
David Mamet continues his prolific nature with a bicoastal presence on the live stage. While Two Unrelated Plays by David Mamet is underway in LA, November is creating laughter in NYC. Led by Nathan Lane, he of the angular eyebrows, November tells the tale of a narrow minded US President looking at the narrowing options as his term ends. The classic Mamet hallmarks (staccato, rapid fire, echoed dialogue) are in full effect. Likewise is the swearing; hearing the President saying “fuck” every couple minutes from the security of his Oval Office reminded me of Johnny Carson swearing during the commercial breaks of his live taping.
Lane is sterling as the pudgy, nonstop President Charles H.P. Smith. Mamet provides a bio for Smith in the Playbill, teeing up the audience for the guffaws to come after the lights go down and the curtain goes up. For instance, Smith’s campaign slogan was “Question Authority – this means you.”
Lane’s bio runs the gamut from his early stage debut opposite George C. Scott, his role opposite the equally manic Robin Williams in ‘Birdcage,’ his stage portrayal of Nathan Lane in ‘Guys and Dolls’ and most famously as the lead in ‘The Producers.’
Most of the action among the five characters in November takes place between President Smith and his attorney Archer Brown, played by the admirable Dylan Baker. Baker is the ostensible voice of reason to Smith’s wacky ideas. One of their early options in securing their post-term comfort is selling pardons. An escalating opportunity arrives from the turkey lobby, seeking the annual pardoning of a turkey. Smith wants to negotiate a turkey pardon for a “number so high dogs can’t hear it.” The wackiness is underway.
Mamet succumbs more than often to his tendency to make every line a soundbite, which results in some convoluted dialogue. Nonetheless, the resulting laughs are frequent and earned: “there are no solutions, only rearrangements of problems” is one character’s assessment of politics.
Smith’s battles escalate when his lesbian speechwriter returns from China with a plan to leverage Smith’s need for a perfect speech. Of course, she returns with bird flu, which runs afoul of Smith’s plans for the turkeys. The speech evolves over the course of the play, based on America’s “shade tree mechanics” being the backbone of the nation. The speechwriter Clarice is ably played by Laurie Metcalf, who is an original member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
Joe Mantello directs the organized madness with a deft touch. His eclectic credits include Take Me Out and Wicked as well as prior work with Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross). The play is set in the Oval Office, which looks suitably elegant. I am still trying to figure out the seemingly purposeful presence of Stephen King’s Cujo as the only identifiable book in the President’s office.
Mamet (who introduces himself in the Playbill as being “better known as a cartoonist” in light of one of his current projects) consistently swings for the fences, and he scores well in November.
November is playing at Ethel Barrymore Theatre; 243 West 47th St, New York, NY; For more information, visit www.shubertorganization.com/theatres/ethel_barrymore.asp