Sunday, February 3, 2008

Review of "November"

Tired of presidential politics? Sick of all those political ads? Annoying pollsters and intrusive phone calls? Can’t wait for the Super Tuesday primaries to be over? The frenzied tonic of an answer is located at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in David Mamet’s new comedy, “November.” This is not the dour Mamet of “American Buffalo” or “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but a more puckish playwright out to skewer presidential politics and, not too subtly, the current occupant of the oval office.

Starring Nathan Lane as a buffoon of a Commander-in-Chief, “November” zeroes in on the Almighty Dollar and its role in presidential elections and beyond. The premise of the show is simple. Lane’s character, President Charles Smith, is despised by just about everyone in the United States, which is putting a damper on his reelection bid. This has negatively affected his fund-raising ability for a last minute TV blitz as well as his attempts to raise money for a much-desired Presidential Library. The solution? Fleece the turkey lobby, seeking the ceremonial pardon of the Thanksgiving bird, in exchange for millions in donations. Add in complications and sermonizing on same sex marriage and you have the ingredients for a mostly comical and entertaining time in the theater.

In typical Mamet fashion the dialogue is fast and furious and the expletives are numerous. The superb cast, headed by Lane, Dylan Baker and Laurie Metcalf, are more then up to the challenge of taking Mamet’s sometimes absurdist and manic notions and delivering an intoxicating mixture of laughs and jabs.

The focus is on Lane, the bigoted, racist, xenophobic and homophobic President of the United States (I don’t think I left out any other phobias). He’s overwrought, slightly demented, and somewhat intellectually challenged. Lane plays the role to perfection. Buried beneath all the President’s faults and blemishes is a heart, not quite of gold, but a heart nonetheless. Lane is a master of the slow burn, or the arched eyebrow to make a point. He has an accomplished foil in Dylan Baker as Archer Brown, Chief of Staff. Baker is droll, straight-faced and a more calming compliment to Lane’s often caustic character. Laurie Metcalfe, the harried, principled and overwhelmed presidential speechwriter is more than a match for Lane’s bullying President.

Joe Mantello directs with a tight rein, yet gives his actors plenty of room to maneuver, a necessity with the likes of Nathan Lane prowling the stage.

The climax of “November” is, unfortunately, not a satisfying conclusion. Still, “November” is funny and timely. In political parlance think of it as in between a Florida and Ohio primary, just not a California blockbuster.