‘Hail to the Chief’: ‘November’ Is a Winner in New Milford
Election season in America can be a trying time, especially with the mudslide of name calling, accusations and counter-accusations. These days, it seems as if people will do and say anything to get into the White House, but it provides ample fodder for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet in his political comedy, “November.”
He takes no prisoners with this satirical stab at American politics. No one is safe in this raucous comedy, which makes it perfect fare for the risk-taking TheatreWorks New Milford, which tackles the love-it-or-hate-it production with great aplomb under veteran director and designer Richard Pettibone and assistant director Sonnie Osborne.
If you’re looking for a great escape from the real presidential race, this is a winning ticket with Mr. Mamet’s trademark quick wit and over-the-top satire that grows so outrageously, it becomes a three-ring circus. Viewers have never seen the Oval Office like this—or a Commander-in-Chief so riotous.
As Mr. Pettibone put it, “[‘November’ is] not left, right or center. Put simply, it’s very funny political satire based on a fictional president who will, literally, stop at nothing to get re-elected. Add to that the sharp-witted dialogue provided by master playwright David Mamet and you have the recipe for a laugh-filled night out.”
It should be noted, however, that “November” is not for the faint of heart. Mr. Mamet is fond of a certain four-letter word, and uses it often. It should also be noted that the production is far from politically correct. If this is an issue for some viewers, this reviewer advises they stay at home for this one.
The 2008 Tony Award-winning “November” is set just days before a presidential election, and incumbent Charles Smith (Tom Libonate) has a slim chance of winning re-election. He is the most corrupt, inept, unscrupulous buffoon to ever sit in the Oval Office. His approval ratings are down—“lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol”—money is tight, and if he’s not careful, nuclear war could be on the horizon. He can’t understand why the nation hates him so, and he has no money for TV ads, a presidential library or to guarantee his own future.
Smith turns to his trusted aide, the cynical Archer Brown (Jonathan Jacobson) for help, for he won’t go down without a fight. With Brown, Smith devises a plan—centered on the White House tradition of pardoning a couple of turkeys before Thanksgiving—and risks it all to make a last-minute comeback. It won’t be easy, however, as his lesbian speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein (Robyn Maitland), just back from an important (to her) trip to China, has plans of her own. And, waiting in the wings is the exasperated and germophobic National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products Manufacturers’ representative, “The Turkey Guy” (Mike Ritts), and a chief from the Native American Micmac Nation, Chief Dwight Grackle (Matt McQuail), who’s on the warpath.
In essence, it’s a recipe for absurdity and disastrous chaos, and, for the audience, it’s a laugh a minute. Indeed, there is no question how the playwright feels about the burdened political environment in which we find ourselves today. From presidential libraries, civil marriage, gambling casinos and lesbians, to American Indians, questionable pardons and campaign contributions, we watch the train wreck unfold on stage. Sure, the plot is predictable and ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun.
Out of “retirement” and back from a five-year hiatus from directing, Mr. Pettibone has chosen a brilliant cast for “November” and has designed a highly detailed set, taking the audience right into the belly of the Oval Office.
As is par for her TheatreWorks work, Ms. Maitland is wonderful as Smith’s out and proud speechwriter, as is Mr. Jacobson as the derisive Archer, helping Smith every step along the way—and never letting him miss the gravity of the situation. The same can be said about Mr. Ritts as The Turkey Guy and Mr. McQuail as Chief Dwight Grackle, who both perform with pitch-perfect comic timing.
But there wouldn’t be a production without Mr. Libonate as the spineless, scheming, torture-happy Commander-in-Chief. Not even the best of curmudgeons can hate this president who, it seems, does have a heart beneath all that bravado.
TheatreWorks is calling this show a “star-spangled satire,” and it is, indeed, satire at its best. If you can get past a few expletives and a whole lot of political incorrectness, you’re in for a real presidential treat.