Political, but not polemical
Windfall Theatre stages David Mamet's 2007 comedy; it's more farce than satire.
Given David Mamet’s politics, I expected some argumentative bite from November, which Windfall Theatre opened Thursday night. But the 2007 comedy has none. The play, in its local premiere, is an amusing, harmless farce of zany characters propelled by unfortunate coincidence, venality and stupidity.
The Oval Office – tucked convincingly between risers with about 30 seats per side at the cozy Village Church – contains all the action. President Charles Smith stands at the center, stirring up the play with one desperate act after another to revive his dead and all-but-buried re-election drive. He finally gives up and schemes to extort a nice parting nest egg from the trade organization for the turkey industry, which wants its annual Thanksgiving “pardon” for a White House turkey.
Unintended consequences pile up as Mamet tightens the springs during two long expository acts. Subplots range from inopportune phone calls from his wife to bargaining with his lesbian speechwriter over a very personal take on gay marriage. Oh, a bird flu scare and turkey health issues come into play, as well.
Mamet and director Maureen Kilmurry take none of this seriously. Smith, after all, doesn’t know Iraq from Iran and can’t remember if the U.S. is still in the U.N. His only job skill is a desperate desire for survival. To this point, that has prevailed over his nitwittery and instinct to shake down anyone who walks through the door.
President Smith would have been a dandy role for Bob Hope back in the day, going hysterical one moment and muttering throw-away jokes the next. Robert W.C. Kennedy didn’t see it that way. Kennedy played it big and loud throughout the first two acts. That allowed Kevin Hogan, as right-hand man Archer Brown, to undercut his boss’ ranting with such droll, slightly weary replies as “Everybody hates you, you’re out of money, go home.”
No one else had nearly as much as Kennedy to do, but they all did it well. I caught both Hogan and Beth Monhollen, as the speechwriter, suppressing laughter a couple of times. But in this sort of play, it doesn’t matter so much if the actors crack up. In any case, I liked Monhollen’s blunt earnestness, an immovable object in the path of Kennedy’s blustering but finally resistible force. I also liked Hogan’s reactions to his boss’ string of idiocies: deadpan face to face, but just a hint of amazement at that stupidity when the next shiny object distracted the prez. President Smith, by the way, meets his match in the late, climactic entrance of Michael Weber as Dwight Grackle, chief of the Mik-Mak Nation. He’s just as excitable Smith, just as venal, and much more pretentious.
Placing an enraged Indian chief armed with a poison dart in the Oval Office doesn’t tell us anything about democracy or America. But it is pretty funny.
Windfall Theatre’s production of November, opening its 20th season, premieres Friday, Oct. 12 at Village Church, 130 E. Juneau. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved at (414) 332-3963.
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