Brian Matuszak’s Rubber Chicken Theater again brings us playwright David Mamet. His 2008 play,“November”, is on-stage through Saturday, 7:30pm, at The Play Ground.
Perhaps you remember Mamet’s “Wag the Dog,”, a movie about a fictional president who stages a fake war to distract from a damaging sex scandal. Also a White House comedy, “November” chronicles a day in the life of incumbent Charles H. P. Smith, an unpopular President scrabbling for money on the eve of losing his bid for his second term. Civil marriage, gambling casinos, a lesbian mama, American Indians, presidential libraries, questionable pardons and campaign contributions provide the evening’s fodder.
This review, done in absentia due to my slow stroll through Wisconsin’s Green County cheese country, inspired my friend, Doreen, to attend and take notes. “Fast-paced inanity” is her initial description. “There was so much laughing, it was pathetic.”
Giving the Broadway premiere’s Nathan Lane a run for his money as President is Chris Nollet. Smith and his amoral sidekick lawyer, Archer Brown (Brian Matuszak), spend half their time on wildly ringing phones warding off off-stage wife Cathy as well as international crises the President is ill-versed in. President Smith is avowedly and bombastically racist and homophobic.
Top-notch director, Minden Hultstrom, gets the timing right in a diverse set of scenarios. The important Thanksgiving turkey pardon is just one. And who would have guessed the turkey pardon could be parlayed into a huge fundraiser? But you’ve got to leave the office with some pocket change and funds for a library. The Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey By-Products Association is the foil, played by dead-pan John Schmidt.
When the Turkey Rep won’t up the anti, President Smith considers Thanksgiving pork and eventually tuna. Chief Dwight Grackle (Matthew Northrup) of the Micmac Nation is eager to sign on to Smith’s hoax in exchange for the island of Nantucket where he’ll build a casino.
When Bernstein (Cheryl Skafte), Smith’s speechwriter, protests the Thanksgiving spin, the Pres insists that bribing “separates us from the lower life forms, like the uh uh large apes, or the Scandinavians”.
Bernstein is a quick study and promises Smith a terrific speech if he will marry her to her girlfriend at the White House. Skafte sneezes and coughs throughout the play, a harbinger of turkey things to come. (Is it avian flu we protect Duluthians from by insisting our resident fowl be strangled in chicken wire?) The speechwriter provides the only nod to conscience or compassion in the play.
Mamet is from Chicago. I recall the quick wit of my childhood classmates in Illinois. A niece who teaches in Chicago has honed that edgy, acerbic social criticism. I’ve suggested to her that she’s prime for Second City where Mamet worked as a kid. Whether she could mimic his trademark obscenities is another story. He’d be a challenging act to follow. (And I can’t wait to see the play for myself this weekend.)