Playwright David Mamet tackles American politics in his new satire “November” about an incompetent President running for a second term. Nathan Lane turns in a brilliant comic portrayal as the despicable President Charles Smith (Chuck for short), who’s unnamed political party has deserted him on the eve of the national election. Joe Mantello’s swift paced production whips Mamet’s slight spoof into a hysterical frenzy and the uniformly excellent cast delivers delicious support that keep the evening constantly amusing even as the farce falters.
The action takes place over two days in the President’s Oval Office, handsomely conceived by two-time Tony Award winner Scott Pask. The realistic detailed set grounds the evening in truth and the marvelous ensemble play the very funny material to the hilt hitting the bull’s eye with their outstanding marksmanship. The clever ideas from the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of “Glengarry Glen Ross” are never less than winning and the jokes fly in rapid fire succession, but Mamet’z themes are not fully examined. The result is his outlandish premise plays more like an extended sketch lampooning the President’s potential for abuse of power than a fully developed comedy.
Mamet’s obnoxious President Chuck is a morally corrupt, uniformed, vulgar idiot trying to sell pardons in a last minute attempt to benefit his financial position before leaving office. His trusted advisor (Dylan Baker) candidly tells him “Everybody hates you, and you’re out of cash. Go home.” But still the President is unwilling to relinquish power, coming up with a last ditch effort to win re-election with a scheme to extort two hundred million dollars from the turkey industry and use the money for a final advertising blitz.
With the current campaign picking up speed, the play couldn’t be timelier; especially since money for advertising appears to be a key ingredient to winning the democratic nomination. The apparent insinuation being that the American public can be bought and easily duped. The playwright, who is known for his cynical edge and his profanity laced portraits of macho men, appears to be turning soft in his old age. His absurd comedy is very funny, indeed, but without digging too deep beneath the surface. Although the F*** word is used more than 100 times the tone is decidedly playful.
Mamet’s farce does provide Nathan Lane with a dazzling showcase for the actor’s comic gifts. This is Lane’s best role since "The Producers,” and the two-time Tony Award winning star gives a convincing tour de force that is utterly amazing. His transitions are hysterical and Lane keeps the evening in high gear with a polished precision that is downright astounding.
The play, which portends to be politically incorrect, pulls its punches keeping the actors in Joe Mantello’s razor sharp production from taking full flight into comic absurdity that could have been exhilarating to witness. Instead the evening is a testament to their tremendous efforts to keep the proceedings constantly lively.
As the President’s lesbian speechwriter Clarice Bernstein (Laurie Metcalf) just off a plane from China with a newly adopted baby refuses to write anymore speeches for him unless the president agrees to marry her and her lesbian partner on national television. The role is decidedly underwritten losing an opportunity for some meaty confrontational exchanges and giving the actress little to play. Since Clarice is part of the central conflict, this is most unfortunate turning the role into little more than a willing foil.
The evening belongs to Nathan Lane and he navigates the territory under Joe Mantello’s guidance with total assurance balancing his manic outbursts with just a hint of self awareness that makes his President Chuck a hysterical marvel.
“November” opened on January 17, 2008 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.com , 212-239-6200 or at the box office.