'November' is a Winner!
Judging from the headlines, there’s not much Americans agree on this election season. But one aspect of politics that all voters can enjoy regardless of their personal political views is the hilarious comedy November now on stage at Theatreworks New Milford.
Created by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and two-time Oscar nominee David Mamet, and cast and staged to perfection by TheatreWorks, November is the implausible tale of an incumbent, feckless President who is about to be defeated in his bid for re-election – but stumbles upon a last-minute and unbelievably cock-eyed scheme to snatch victory from defeat.
The career-saving tactic centers on exchanging a routine pardon of turkeys prior to Thanksgiving for a huge infusion of cash, which will revive the campaign’s nonexistent advertising effort. The fast-paced play follows the inept and buffoonish President as he manipulates people and events and skirts various laws to orchestrate the unlikely exchange.
Tom Libonate (of Danbury) plays the fictional President Charles Smith, a bumbling, bombastic Commander-in-Chief who is clueless about everything from world events to why there is no money for his Presidential Library.
Many of us have encountered this sort of “empty suit” character in our business or professional lives – a person who has risen to a high level despite any evidence of ability or intellect. Mr. Libonate is perfect in the role, alternately needy, insulting, conniving, cheerful and clumsy – and above all always self-centered.
Jonathan Jacobson (Litchfield) is superb as a Presidential advisor who must deal with Smith’s incessant mood swings, implausible ideas and impossible demands. Mr. Jacobson displays a professional demeanor that is cool and calm, just barely covering his frustration at having to continually put out the fires that his President inadvertently or intentionally starts.
Robin Maitland (New Fairfield) plays Clarence Bernstein, a long-serving and lesbian speechwriter who has just returned from China where she adopted a child with her partner. She is ready to resign but also wants the President to marry them. Her request is legitimate but places the President at political risk; he only agrees as a pretense to get one last speech out of her. Ms. Maitland plays the role, despite an apparent bout of the flu, admirably and with dignity. Same-sex marriage is an issue that is not yet resolved in our society and her performance presents a cogent and supportive argument in favor.
Also providing superior performances are Mike Ritts (Oxford) as the befuddled Turkey Guy who ends up getting blackmailed over a minor PR stunt and Matt McQuail (Newtown) who portrays a menacing Chief Dwight Grackle, a Native American leader who is fed up and ready to avenge broken treaties and countless other slights against his tribe.
Humor sometimes comes at the expense of others. This play is no exception. Hardly an ethnic group exists that does not get maligned or skewered at some point. If you are squeamish about such things, it is best to be forewarned.
Additionally, the language at times is rough. People who are intense or desperate often use expletives – even those who work in the Oval Office. One of Mamet’s trademarks is his use of realistic dialog. The language in this play is realistic to the circumstances. And the opening house crowd, which was raucous in its appreciation, laughed loudly and regularly throughout.
The entire two-act play takes place in just a single location, the Oval Office in the White House. The set and lighting make an excellent replica of the real thing – so much so that audience members in the fist few rows likely felt there were sitting with the President and not just watching from afar.