November/by David Mamet/directed by Scott Zigler/Mark Taper Forum/through November 4
It takes a master playwright - who better than David Mamet? - to put an audience smack dab in the middle of the political arena, in the Oval Office no less, where slings and arrows of undeniable speed fly, attack and injure. Yet, victims rise, valiantly or not, to face a continuous onslaught of greed and deception. November, Mamet's 2008 Broadway play, is a great forerunner to election day 2012. Is one candidate more greedy, more downright stupid than the other? Who is the lesser of two evils? The decision is yours, dear voter.
President Charles Smith (Ed Begley, Jr.) is without a doubt the greediest, most bigoted son-of-a-bitch on the face of the planet. If anyone crosses him, it's put him "on the piggy plane to Bulgaria!" As his impending reelection looks grim, he implores his speech writer Clarice Bernstein (Felicity Huffman), just returned from China, where she and her lesbian lover Daisy have adopted a daughter, to write him a victory, rather than concession, speech. She will under one condition: that he publicly marry her and her lover. "Illegal!" shouts secretary Archer Brown (Rod McLachlan). It just so happens that a representative from the National Association of Turkey Manufacturers (Todd Weeks) has called upon the President to bless the turkeys -a Thanksgiving tradition - but Smith refuses to do it this year unless he is payed an exorbitant sum. The rep reluctantly agrees, but when he gets wind of the President's plan to marry Bernstein in an on-air ceremony, he quickly withdraws his support. Further hell breaks loose when Native American Dwight Grackle (Gregory Cruz), whom Smith has cursed and sold out over a casino deal in Nantucket, breaks into the scene to have his revenge.
Mamet's madcap satire of contemporary American politics is zanier than It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. It's that flavor of nonstop jokes, silly unexpected occurrences and biting insults, as only Mamet can write them, where every second word is f---, that sends November reeling across the footlights. It's as dynamically engaging as the scorchingly serious Glengarry Glen Ross, only deathly funny!
Director Scott Zigler pulls out all the stops as Begley and castmates tear up the scenery. Begley has never been better with a razor sharp, staccato-paced pungent delivery akin to a machine gun. He really knocks this one out of the park. Huffman digs deep for Bernstein, creating a realistic but low-key portrait of the victimized lesbian woman. On a good note, she never pushes the humor. My only qualm is that by underplaying her, her message loses some importance. McLaghlan, Weeks and Cruz in his brief scene all add showmanship and color to the proceedings. But first and foremost, it is Begley who steals the show, delivering Mamet as he deserves to be heard. Takeshi Kata's scenic design is a picture perfect replica of the Oval Office.
November is a refreshingly tasteless political comedy to be savored if only for its sensational patter that is David Mamet.