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Mamet's "November" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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By David Mamet
(David Mamet Bio)
With Mike Nichols and Ethan Phillips

Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

Nathan Lane as Charles Smith
Dylan Baker as Archer Brown
Ethan Phillips as a Turkey By-Products Rep
Laurie Metcalf as Clarice Bernstein
Michael Nichols as Dwight Grackle

Directed by Joe Mantello
Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Paul Gallo
Casting: Kelsey + Company
Production Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
Marketing Services: TMG: The Marketing Group
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Press Representative: Jeffrey Richards Associates/Irene Gandy

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 20, 2008

David Mamet throws out so many one-liners in this hilarious political spoof of Oval office antics that one viewing is not enough; November should be seen twice, and I hope to revisit this exemplary production soon. Full disclaimer, I’m a political news junkie, so for a viewer like me, open to nuanced wit that puts our highest office-holders in bright light, November is champagne and pearls. No actor could portray President Charles Smith with more presence or persuasion than Nathan Lane, a robust character actor (See a review of The Odd Couple, also directed by Joe Mantello). From the moment the curtain rises, we are treated to a full Oval Office setting, with a fiery, frivolous, facetious President and his earnest, manipulative lawyer (Dylan Baker as Archer Brown), who plays straight man to Lane’s expletives, double entendres, and sexist-racist, political incorrectness.

President Smith is on the eve of his re-election, and he expects to lose, and to lose big. His poll numbers are stratospherically low, and his only obsession is to raise funds for his Library, before he loses his clout. Thus, he circles his prey. A Representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers (Ethan Philips) is waiting with a turkey and a spare, somewhere on the White House grounds, for the photo op that spares the turkey and encourages all Americans to buy a bird for Thanksgiving. President Smith sees a financial opportunity here, to raise the stakes for annual publicity for the turkey industry, and his quest for Library funds soon turns to a bigger quest: buy huge chunks of air time for a television commercial blitz and win re-election, after all. Now, if only the turkey company will buckle, as he raises the ante from 25K to 200 million dollars. After all, just multiply the price of a pound of turkey by all the Americans who eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and then threaten to tell them to eat pork.

Speaking of pork, there’s a sub-plot about a piggy-plane, owned by the pork industry, that flies sub-rosa for purposes of rendition, and President Smith uses this plane to scare any opponent of his survival plot of the moment. Also circled as prey is Smith’s speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein (Laurie Metcalf), a gay bride-to-be, who has just returned from China, where she adopted a baby with her partner, and who has contracted bird flu, coughing and wheezing and threatening the health of the turkeys in waiting, prize birds in bacterial isolation. This production is oozing with surprises, and the tables turn on Smith, when his loyal “Bernstein” refuses to write her speech, unless Smith officially marries her and her partner, publicly on television. Smith becomes crazed, fuming with homophobic epithets. This power struggle provides additional energy, but I would have preferred more political sub-plots, considering the real-life political disasters we are currently juggling. War in this play is a minor plot, as Smith has no access to Marines, who are stuck in Iraq.
Women in November are cartoonish, with Bernstein in a fuzzy wig and shabby gym clothes or an over-the-top wedding gown, and with Smith’s gabby, offstage wife telling the world that the President of Iran just called. But, the most cartoonish character is Dwight Grackle (Michael Nichols), an American Indian chief, who serves as more prey to the wily President Smith, in his quest to keep his office, lest he go home without his Library. November provides that fix of political humor that gets us through real news. And, how close Mamet is to the fine line between reality and satire. Now, if only he could write a play about the current Democratic Primary. That would be a play to see thrice. Kudos to David Mamet, Nathan Lane, and Joe Mantello.

Laurie Metcalf in "November"
Courtesy of Scott Landis

Nathan Lane and Dylan Baker in "November"
Courtesy of Scott Landis

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