New York City Theater
Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., Manhattan
A Broadway play scripted by David Mamet, starring Nathan Lane, and directed by Joe Mantello should be sure-fire. But despite a hilarious performance by Nathan Lane, “November,” now at the Barrymore Theatre, falls short of the mark. Though Mamet has written what should pass for political satire, the result is strictly light-weight. The one-joke show might successfully command a small off-Broadway venue—or play well as a café act, but not on the venerable Barrymore stage.
What is the one joke? How to vote a loser into office! Lane portrays President Charles “Chucky” Smith (Nixon? Bush?), a leader who has messed up throughout his term, as his second-in-command explains to him. But he wants to run again, expects to win—if only he can find the campaign funds. This particular President has no integrity, no idealism, to interfere with his goals. And, in true Mamet—or Nixon—style, he uses the “f” word in every sentence to emphasize those views.
“November” features a non-stop Lane monologue, in which this zany President copes with a dopey wife, a talented Lesbian speechwriter, a menacing Native American, a righteous turkey-lover, and numerous political colleagues. Much of it transpires through the phone, and Lane (a joy to watch) never misses a beat. Others in the cast are less successful. His stone-faced aide (Dylan Baker) and his speechwriter (Laurie Metcalf) come across as dead weight (though, given their track records, these actors are capable of far more). Apparently, director Mantello wanted contrast to the manic Nathan Lane performance.
Yet the story has an amusing conceit. It seems that in real life, on every Thanksgiving, the Man in Office comes forward to pardon one turkey. Annually one particular bird is saved from the roasting pan. In this so-called satire, this President, too, is scheduled to pardon a turkey. But in negotiating with the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers, he threatens to pardon all turkeys—and in effect will destroy the turkey industry. He will go through with the planned ceremony only if he is paid two hundred million dollars.
Mamet does manage to pull off the occasionally hilarious line, mixed with the obscenities. And at times the piece rises to the level of good farce. But, despite, the combined efforts of several respected talents, this show is—let’s face it—a turkey!
February 28, 2008