BWW Reviews: David Mamet's NOVEMBER at Alley Theatre - Delightfully Politically Incorrect
Living up to his reputation, David Mamet delivers a script full of four letter words and venomous zingers. Skewering American Politics and political correctness, this absurd comedy is all about President Charles Smith, who hopes to be reelected even if his committee hasn't produced a single TV ad and its already November. Mix in his lackey of an advisor, his speech writer who just happens to be a lesbian who has just retuned from China where she and her partner adopted their baby, a man who just wants the President to pardon his turkey, and an irate Native American chief to bring about chaotic and humorous calamity.
Directed by Sanford Robbins, the assembled cast of Alley veterans keeps the show moving with breakneck pacing that elicits everything from smiles to guffaws. Moreover, no member of the cast drops a beat or misses a cue. Utilizing the Nehaus Theatre's ability to be in the round, Sanford Robbins also has each of his actors act to all four seated sections without it seeming awkward or unnatural. Additionally, when pausing for laughter, the casts' facial expressions keep the show moving. These pauses are conveyed more naturally-as if they are nothing more than a believable pause in the conversation while someone catches their breath, thinks about what was said, or tries to figure out what to say next.
Perhaps the biggest star of the show is Jeffrey Bean's prodigious memory. Portraying Charles Smith, quite possibly the most reprehensible president imaginable, Jeffrey Bean delivers each line with clarity and conviction. Whether disparaging the Chinese, Native Americans, women, Jews, Muslims or homosexuals, who he all claims to not be normal people, audiences can't help but like Jeffery Bean's President Smith. Thus, it's truly easy to understand why his advisor says, "Nobody likes you. Go home!" Moreover, Charles Smith as portrayed by Jeffrey Bean has a short fuse that when set off allows Jeffrey Bean to chew scenery in a way that is reminiscent of Nathan Lane while still being original and unique.
Like Jeffrey Bean, Todd Waite as presidential advisor Archer Brown is on stage the entire show. Todd Waite's Archer Brown is a delightful yes-man, lacking common sense and consistently busies himself with keeping his boss happy. Quite possibly the most charming aspect of Todd Waite's performance is that no matter how many times you've seen him play different characters, his performances always have a crisp freshness to them. The audience never feels that he is rehashing a previous character or phoning in his performance. I never get tired of seeing Todd Waite on stage at the Alley, and I feel certain that most of their patrons would agree with me. He is a magnificently skilled character actor, and it is always a pleasure to see him perform.
Elizabeth Bunch's portrayal of Clarice Bernstein is affecting and hilarious. Capturing the starry-eyed, hopeful political schemer and speechwriter with a pen of gold, Elizabeth Bunch radiates with charisma and charm, despite her character's perpetually red, runny nose and downtrodden appearance. Her magnanimous personality also earns the audience's favor and will leave them rooting for her as well.
James Belcher adeptly plays a shrewd businessman and Turkey Representative that is simply looking to boost his own business by having the President pardon one of his turkeys. Having spent a great deal of effort to raise the perfect turkey (and a back up) to be pardoned, James Belcher's portrayal of the Turkey Representative is quite possibly the least vile character in the show. Each of his cards are clearly visible and he doesn't hide behind a poker face. Through James Belcher's characterization, the representative's convictions never alter; however, leave it David Mamet to turn things on their head, making the most humane and consistent character quite possibly the least likable in the show.
David Rainey's portrayal of Dwight Grackle is supremely satisfying. The only complaint that I have with the performance is that David Mamet didn't give David Rainey enough time on stage. Dwight Grackle is the deeply offended leader of the Micmac tribes, and all he is willing to accept as an apology is for President Smith to turn over Nantucket Island to his tribe so they can build a large Hotel and Casino there. David Rainey pristinely delivers the ludicrous farce of a character, adroitly playing into each stereotype imaginable.
Scenic and lighting design by Kevin Rigdon is fantastic. With his set, Kevin RigDon Wonderfully includes each iconic piece of the Oval Office in his design and brings it all together with the ceiling mounted oval that hangs over the performance space. The lights are splendid as well, and touches such as the gradual shift from daytime to dusk outside the window of the Oval Office were greatly appreciated. The only misstep in the design is that the confetti canons were not better masked; therefore, my mind wandered and wondered when and why they would be used.
Blair Gulledge's costume design was wonderfully believable and realistic. It never detracted from the play. Possibly, Blair Gulledge's most inspired decision was to always keep Jeffrey Bean in ties that were both red and blue, which did not allow the audience to affiliate him with any particular political party. Ultimately, this prevents any one particular ideology from becoming the butt of Mamet's jokes, while he equally skewers all sides of American politics.
Sound design by Pierre Dupree also had some delightful touches. His choice of music, consisting of kazoos and what sounded like a middle school band, between scenes maintained the tone and mood of the show while elaborating on the flaws of the characters. His exit music, Roosevelt's selection of "Happy Days Are Here Again" for the 1932 Democratic Convention, kept the smiles on the faces of the audience and sent them out reminiscing on how much fun they had just had.
David Mamet's madcap and irreverent comedy NOVEMBER expertly vacillates between cerebral and crude humor, offering some of the best presentations of modern day political incorrectness around. If you're ready to blow past the monotony of the 2012 Presidential Campaign and enjoy laughs at the expense of the American Political Machine, then this show is for you. If you're like me, you'll smile and chortle more than anything else, but plenty audience members were rolling in the aisles when I saw it. There is no doubt; NOVEMBER at The Alley is wholly entertaining.Alley Theatre. Photos by Jann Whaley.
(Left to Right) Elizabeth Bunch as Clarice Bernstein and Jeffrey Bean as Charles Smith in the Alley Theatre's production of November. November runs August 24 - September 23, 2012 on the Neuhaus Stage. Photo by Jann Whaley.
(Left to Right) David Rainey as Dwight Grackle and Jeffrey Bean as Charles Smith in the Alley Theatre's production of November. November runs August 24 - September 23, 2012 on the Neuhaus Stage. Photo by Jann Whaley.