Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) November

(poster art)

Electing Mamet
by Valerie Cardinal

David Mamet’s November is not a production for the easily offended – it seems like every ethnicity, culture, gender and sexual orientation is mocked and insulted equally throughout the show. However, this doesn’t come off as mean-spirited. In fact, Mamet’s script is frequently very hilarious in a way that is reminiscent of television shows like Veep. November is an entertaining, light evening for those who like their political satire with a heaping spoonful of absurdity.  
November centres on Charles Smith, the most hated president in American history. He’s only a few days away from the election, and destined to be kicked out of the White House due to his dismal approval ratings and lack of campaign funding. However, Smith isn’t going down without a fight. He tries to wheedle his way into leaving office a very rich man (at the very least) with the help of his surprisingly competent Chief of Staff, Archer Brown. 

POTUS is a petty, money-grubbing, quick-tempered, scenery-chewing, foul-mouthed asshole.

The President’s central scheme involves wringing as much cash as he can from his Thanksgiving turkey pardon. Throw in a lesbian speechwriter trying to get married, a Chinese baby, a Native chief with a grudge and an uncooperative turkey industry and you’ve got a lot of complications!
As played by Todd Duckworth, POTUS is a petty, money-grubbing, quick-tempered, scenery-chewing, foul-mouthed asshole. It’s easy to see why he has become the most hated man in America. You want him to fail on an epic level, but he’s so entertaining to watch. Duckworth keeps the audience enthralled throughout the show with a high energy level. 
Tom Charlebois’s turkey lobbyist is especially entertaining, with a nervous, golly-gee demeanor contrasting with the President’s sourness. Just seeing Charlebois’s flustered walk into the oval office as he reminds the President that the turkeys need to smell his hand before the pardon was enough to make me burst out laughing. 
Steve Martin is fantastic as the Chief of Staff, who serves as the President’s oddly competent right-hand man. The best part is that after trying to talk the President into conceding, Martin throws himself into all these hare-brained schemes with gusto. 
While the acting was strong all-around, I feel like Chantale Plante could have turned up the absurd qualities of Bernstein, the speechwriter who has just adopted a baby from China with her female life partner. The character seems to be stuck between being the straight man and being an over-the-top caricature like Duckworth’s President. However, her tendency to stand up for what’s right gives the production some heart, even though she’s not above some manipulation of her own. 
John P. Kelly’s direction gives the show a surprisingly fast pace. There’s a lot of movement, especially for a production that takes place entirely in one room and involved more than a few telephone conversations.
The elaborate set is beautiful and authentic. It actually looks like the oval office, complete with paintings of George Washington, among other notable presidents. 
Mamet’s writing style is cynical and features lots of well-deployed profanity and not quite politically correct quips. The second half in particular veers into complete absurdity. It seems like the production tops itself at every turn, in the best way possible. November also touches on many relevant hot topics, such as gay marriage, war in Iraq, tensions with Iran, military spending, and, most important of all, the protocol of pardoning a turkey. The main character may remind theatregoers of a certain recent President – after all, this was written in 2007. However, November doesn’t strive to lampoon anyone in particular. Some background knowledge of American politics is helpful for understanding all the jokes. Mostly, Mamet knows his audience and writes to it well. 
November strikes a good balance between on-the-nose satire and complete absurdity. It’s not an earth-shattering, life-changing production, but it makes for a very entertaining evening at the theatre.
Run time: 120 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission)
November continues to December 8

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