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Theater Review: Mamet’s "November" Treated Like Royalty In New Milford

By Julie Stern, Newtown Bee


NEW MILFORD — To those who may feel depressed or offended by the caliber of the political process in this presidential election year, I recommend that you go up to New Milford to catch a performance of the TheatreWorks production of David Mamet’s November. In fact, I highly recommend the show to everyone over the age of ten or twelve, except those who have a problem with Mamet’s pervasive use of the F word.

Set in the White House Oval Office, this is a hilariously funny satire that had a recent audience practically rolling in the aisles, largely because of the spot-on performance by Tom Libonate as soon-to-be-ex-President Charles Smith, who is hopelessly behind in the polls, a week before Election Day.

When he demands to know why donations are no longer coming in, his trusted adviser, Archer Brown, explains that it’s because “everybody hates you!” Smith has messed up the economy, gotten the country into war, trashed the environment, and is currently dickering with the idea of selling the Island of Nantucket to the Mic Mac Indian tribe so that they can build a huge casino.

No statesman he, Smith consoles himself with the prospect of lining his pockets, since if he can’t win the election, he at least hopes to leave office with piles of unused campaign funds. But how can he convince people to donate to a lost cause?
Summoning up his inner political-economic philosopher, Smith declares that everything is a quid pro quo. “That’s how things are done!”

To describe the schemes and shenanigans he gets involved with would be to give away the plot, and deprive potential viewers of the joy of watching it unfold. Rather, I’ll just say that it entails showing politicians to be even worse than you might have feared — more crass, more ignorant, and more self-serving, all of this deliciously sent up to the accompaniment of stirring Sousa marches and the strains of “Hail to the Chief.”

Under a welcome return to directing by Richard Pettibone, the rest of the cast is a great match for Libonate’s antics.

Jonathan Jacobson is alarming as Archer Brown, the political handler who knows just how awful a president Charles Smith is, but is blithely committed to backing him. Robyn Maitland does a great job as Smith’s exasperated speech-writer, Clarice Bernstein, who puts words into his mouth that have no connection to his dim-witted brain. Mike Ritts is stridently pushy as the “Turkey Guy” who is forging a deal with the chief executive, and Newtowner Matt McQuail is very funny as a Nantucket Indian with brass.

Even as we follow the 2012 campaign, it is salutary to remember that we are no longer in the era of Abraham Lincoln, who wrote The Gettysburg Address himself on the back of an envelope, on his way to the battlefield cemetery to make the speech.

While we often judge the candidates by the eloquence and passion of their pronouncements, their words may actually have been formulated by a paid committee in a back room somewhere, with the purpose of telling a gullible public what they would like to hear.

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