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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
While Lane looks quite presidential in the spacious Oval Office Scott Pask has designed for him, his Smith is even more ineffective as a leader than Bilaystock was as a producer. Unlike our current lame duck president, to whom many will gleefully compare Lane's character, President Smith is nearing the end of a disastrous first term and is in all probability already a lame duck. His plummeting ratings and diminished war chest make it unlikely that he will have a second term to enrich himself and mess up the country.
Being as dim-witted as he is venal, Smith is at a loss to understand this state of affairs. When he asks Archer Brown, his lawyer and closest adviser (Dylan Baker), why everyone seems to hate him, Archer responds with Mametian briskness: "Because you fucked up everything you touched." He tells the hapless President that his fundraising committe wants a valid issue but when Smith suggests "continuity" Archer dismisses it with "You've fucked the country into a cocked hat." Those are the first of 169 times you'll hear the F word during the less than two hours it takes for Smith, to try to hold onto his job, or at least walk out with a bundle of money. Audiences not accustomed to or enamored of Mamet's tough talk be forwarned.
The lion's share of those 169 cusswords are spouted by Lane who also gets to voice just about every possible politically incorrect opinion —about immigrants, lesbians and native Amercans on the domestic front, and about the Chinese and Israelis further afield. As in Romance which played out in a courtroom (see link below), Mamet has given his play a setting that is associated with dignity and order so that he can turn it into wild disorder.
With gags strung together like the beads of a necklace, this could easily be just a cannily timed, skit to send up the incompetent politicians a gullible public has unwisely and all too often empowered. But thanks to Mamet's savvy way with over the top humor November is more than an extended stand-up routine. He lands his gags, but not without a layer of despairing awareness that misused power has gotten the upper hand in the struggle to hold on to our founders' vision. Yet, when the star spangled red, white and blue curtain goes down, he leaves us with the hope that the Democracy symbolized by the Oval office will outlast those unworthy of occupying it.
No doubt having Nathan Lane play the President whose greed is only surpassed by his ignorance, will keep the seats at the Barrymore filled. Though November doesn't require Lane to sing, his role calls for massive doses of energy draining verbiage enough lengthy diatribes to severely test his sensitive vocal chords. But Lane doesn't stint and gives the part his all. Though his performance is less a case of Nathan Lane as Mamet's President than that President à la Nathan Lane, it works. This Mamet in his make-them laugh mode suits Lane's way with exasperated raised eyebrows and rat-a-tat delivery of zingers as perfectly as his politician's "uniform" of blue suit with a little flag in the buttonhole.
Dylan Baker, one of New York's busiest and versatile actors, is a dream legal eagle-cum-straight man. His understated comic talent is epitomized in a scene during which he patiently tries to explain to his boss why he can't marry Bernstein, his Lesbian speechwriter (Laurie Metcalf), and her partner. Metcalf is also quite funny as another comic foil. Her speechwriter is at first too exhausted and sick from a trip to China to adopt a baby to do more than look bleary-eyed and sneeze constantly. She hilariously turns into a giddy bride, a physical transformation given a terrific assist from costume designer Laura Bauer).
I won't tell you how Bernstein's sniffles and determination to marry affect the President's turkey pardoning deal with the Representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers (Ethan Phillips) or how a Native American named Dwight Grackle (Michael Nichols) who wants to build a hotel casino on Nantucket fits into the plot. But, rest assured that director Joe Mantello expertly keeps everything moving along and that Mamet manages to neatly tie all these ridiculous loose ends together.
With this season so hearteningly dominated by straight plays, Broadway is now blessed with three quite different comedies: the farcical new-old Is He Dead? (review), The 39 Steps (review), a British import that parodies a classic Alfred Hitchcock character-studded mystery with just four actors— and now November which, while not Mamet at his most powerful, is a lot more entertaining than any of the debates by this year's wannabe Presidents.
For a review of Romance in which Mamet also made mayehom of a law and order environment go here. For an overview of Mamet's life, career and links to other of his work we've reviewed, see our Mamet Backgrounder.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide