BWW Reviews: NOVEMBER Gets the Vote at The Playhouse in San Antonio
I have to say that when I heard that The Playhouse was producing NOVEMBER, potty-mouthed David Mamet's play about an American President's attempts to win his re-election campaign, I emitted an audible groan. When I found out that the production was actually slated to run from late October to mid November, meaning it would end its run weeks after our real Presidential election, I groaned even more. I love politics, but I, like many others, am sick and tired of hearing about Decision 2012. At this point, I'd describe Obama, Romney, and the election in general with some colorful Mametisms, so I was puzzled that The Playhouse would consider producing NOVEMBER as we all tire of this race.
Now that I've seen the production, I happily report that The Playhouse won over this undecided voter. NOVEMBER is a hilarious farce about the political incorrectness of politics which is exactly what we need right now.
While the language, full of words and phrases that would make the crassest truck drivers and sailors blush, is classic Mamet, the subject matter and it's treatment is not. Mamet is known for introspective drama, often about masculinity and competition. While there are overtones of those themes, the treatment here is entirely comical, and Mamet proves he can do comedy just as effortlessly as he can do drama.
Mamet's gut-busting satire, directed to fast-paced perfection by Andrew Thornton, focuses on President Charles Smith in the last days of his re-election campaign. He's out of money, and it seems that the country hates him. "Your numbers are lower than Gandhi's cholesterol," says one character in one of Mamet's many quotable lines but one of the few ones that is lacking a four-letter word and is therefore repeatable in print. So what's an unpopular President to do when he's down on funds and votes? It's simple, really. Extort extra funds from turkey farmers in exchange for the famous, and highly ridiculous, pre-Thanksgiving Presidential pardoning of a symbolic turkey and get his lesbian speech writer to write an oration that will secure his legacy.
The cast here excels at working within this silly, over-the-top premise, particularly Gary Hoeffler as President Smith. His Smith is a pacing egomaniac who curses so much one begins to wonder if he has Tourette's. He's evil, manipulative, unethical, racist, and homophobic. It's as if Archie Bunker made it to the White House. Yet despite his innumerable unlikeable qualities, President Smith remains likeable. You want to see this guy succeed, and that's largely because of the brief glimpses of warmth, charm, and humanity Hoeffler gives him before the character goes off on another tirade.
And the talent doesn't stop with Hoeffler. Jared Stephens is fantastic as the representative from the turkey company billed in the program as "The Turkey Guy." His facial expressions when he overhears what should be confidential conversations in the oval office are hysterical. Molly Cox shines as Clarice Bernstein, President Smith's speech writer and the only character who seems to have a working moral compass as long as you ignore her attempt to blackmail the Commander in Chief. As Archer Brown, Smith's Chief of Staff, Brad Adams excels at playing the straightman to Hoeffler's hijinks and gets his share of laughs, too. And though he doesn't make an appearance until the 11th hour, Eduardo Anastacio "Apollo" Campos II does fine with the brief but funny role of Chief Dwight Grackle, one of the many people Smith has pissed off in his career.
While the plot line about pardoning turkeys is as pointless, strange, and silly as…well…pardoning turkeys, NOVEMBER is a crowd-pleasing satire that anyone is sure to love. Right now it's unclear who will win the election, but at The Playhouse, NOVEMBER wins hands down.
Run time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one 20 minute intermission. Recommended for adults only.
NOVEMBER, produced by The Playhouse, plays The Playhouse's Cellar Theater 800 West Ashby Place, San Antonio, TX 78212 now thru November 18, 2012. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and military, and $15 for students. For tickets or information, visit www.theplayhousesa.org.