Hilarity Rules The Oval Office as Election Day Looms in David Mamet’s November
by Alan R. Hall
June 12, 2010, Raleigh, NC: The only reason the set of David Mamet’s November does not completely resemble the Oval Office is because the circular rug downstage center is not a mosaic of the Office of the President. In every other respect, Theatre in the Park’s reconstruction is pretty much spot-on, right down to the red phone whose buzzing signals international crisis. The set, designed by Stephen J. Larson, is a magnificent reconstruction, down to the ubiquitous books and the blue rug. It is on this gorgeous recreation that the hilarious antics of Commander-in-chief Charles Smith (Ira David Wood III) take place, as he plots to reinvigorate his sagging campaign for reelection.
Wood plays double-duty in this laugh-fest as President “Chucky” Smith and as director. Joining him onstage is chief of staff Archer Brown (Jesse R. Gephart), chief speech writer Clarice Bernstein (Cameron West), a Representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers (Larry Evans), and New England Indian Chief Dwight Grackle (Scotty Cherryholmes). Together these five give up a classic comedy of errors as Smith frantically attempts to keep his campaign for re-election from tanking, for lack of funds, support, or even a constituency.
The running gag throughout the show is the presence of the Turkey Representative, here with his two turkeys for the annual pardoning as Thanksgiving approaches. The two turkeys are in the outer office, gobbling away, as the rep tries to get the President to go out and pardon them on national television. But Chuck has bigger fish to fry as he tries to handle the daily crises of the Oval Office along with getting himself back in for another four years.
The trouble is, as Archer so vehemently points out, Chuck has disastrously screwed up everything he has touched. His numbers are lower than any previous president, his opponent has a big lead, and Chuck has no money. He is frantic to keep himself in office another four years and grabs at every possible straw to get money and TV time to save himself.
Playwright Mamet sets up amazingly complex scenarios as the play speeds to a close in a scant two hours, even with three acts. Mamet is an equal opportunity destroyer, as he lampoons everything from pardons to gay rights to campaign funding in a farce of epic proportions. Wood is amazingly strong and sustained as the manic president, having desperate conversations on the phone, arguments with his lesbian speech-writer, and jousts with dubious bedfellows in the form of this turkey rep and an Indian chief who is still smarting over the loss of Nantucket Island. (He wants it back to build a 4,000 bed casino.)
Yet another problem is that Clarice Bernstein, Chuck’s speech-writer-in-chief, wants him to marry her and her partner on national television. As Archie keeps screaming that it’s illegal, Chuck keeps trying to find a way, or she will not give him the “legacy” speech he feels he needs to get re-elected. How she interacts with Cherryholmes as Chief Dwight Grackle, and ends up taking a poison dart for her president, is classic farce.
Theatre in the Park has got a hit on its hands with this hilarious and irreverent comedy. With high-flying one-liners, superb timing, and ensemble acting, this one is Aces. There’s only one more weekend to catch November, so be sure to call the box office now.
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