Change is the name of the political game this season as we watch candidates vie for attention and votes, and it's this mindset that has brought change to Broadway in David Mamet's latest venture, "November," a hilarious political comedy starring the incomparable Nathan Lane.
Yes, Lane is back. That sentence alone makes people start laughing as they enter the theater, tissues at the ready for the inevitable tears. The thought of Nathan Lane as President of the United States is even better, and that's probably what Mamet is counting on.
One does not usually consider David Mamet in the same brainiac thought with political comedy -- he of "Glengarry Glen Ross" fame -- but that's exactly what the esteemed playwright has created. His main character is Charles H. P. Smith, aka Chuck, a lame duck president who cannot understand what he has done wrong to make everyone hate him. The answer, given by straight man, Chief of Staff Archer Brown, played perfectly deadpan by Dylan Baker, is "the fact you're still here."
One look at Nathan Lane's sad-eyed, puppy-dog face and you almost feel sorry that this incompetent windbag occupying the Oval Office is about to be run out of town, his bid for re-election in as much shambles as his finances. Add to that a politically astute audience and you have guffaws galore through most of the one-line zingers shared by Lane and Baker.
President Chucky, if he has to go, wants, at the very least, a presidential library. Archie has to tell him that not everybody gets a library, and that "everyone hates you and you're out of cash. Go home!" But Chucky's not-so-well-oiled wheels start turning. If his re-election committee won't let him siphon the funds for his library, he muses, maybe he can fill his coffers by pardoning turkeys before Thanksgiving.
Apparently, selling Presidential pardons is big business, even for turkeys, and the price for having two well-bred gobblers smell the hand of the President before being allowed to live -- a price that keeps going up -- is going to help pave the path for Chuck's library.
What follows is a madcap, joke-filled romp in which every ethnicity and special interest group is equally insulted: Jews, Palestinians, Native Residents of North America, lesbians, and anyone else Mamet can throw in without being arrested for a bias crime, President Smith announces he will outlaw Thanksgiving if the head of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers doesn't cave to his financial demands.
This feeding frenzy escalates when openly gay presidential speechwriter Clarice Bernstein, played by a brilliantly cast Laurie Metcalf, pressures the President to let her write one last great speech on the fowlness of this November tradition. And her suggestions that his legacy be predicated not on turkey giblets, but legalizing gay marriage adds another layer of satirical sitcom madness to an already stretched-to-the-max long-running skit.
When all is said and done, audiences cheer and laugh as much exiting the theater as they did in anticipation when they entered. Baker, coming straight from a successful run in "Mauritius," counters Lane's comedic stance with some of the best lines in the play. Metcalf, the little sister from television's "Roseanne," is a great foil for Lane's conniving President. And Michael Nichols as the insulted Chief Dwight Grackle, and Ethan Phillips as the representative of the turkey manufacturers, bring their own over-the-top madness to the mayhem.
This two-act comedy, however, really seems more suited to the off-Broadway troupe, "Capitol Steps," whose specialty is political parody. One wonders if anyone other than Lane can make this play more significant than it is. Silliness and slyness aside, "November" is not one for the ages; it will outrun itself right after the political conventions, and the Broadway season, is over. Lame duck presidents are only funny while they're lame ducks. Once the duck's goose is cooked, life and audiences move on, and the play will just become a turkey.
See it before the joke is over. But don't be surprised if from somewhere in the audience you hear, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
"Despite the thick swarm of obscenities that are de rigueur in a Mamet play, thereï¿½s nothing remotely shocking about 'November.' If the play had been acted in the old Mamet tradition of louts stewing broodingly in homicidal rage and exasperation, it would probably be more unsettling when the president disgorges racist, sexist and xenophobic diatribes."
New York Times
"It's called 'November' but this shrill and high-decibel comedy directed by Joe Mantello could have easily been called "The Wild, Wild West Wing." & "In the past Mamet's work has been incisive, powerful and realistic. Here he goes for an easy, well-worn target and obvious setup: America's highest office is held by a low-life thug... It's so broad that 'November' is a satire with a big mouth but no bite. "
New York Daily News
"Wth a masterly sleight of hand, Nathan Lane turns slightness into giddy fun." & "There's not much to "November," but it's certainly not the cruelest month. Actually, it's empty-headed political fun, "Saturday Night Live" at its liveliest."
New York Post
"This is, after all, a David Mamet play, so we shouldn't be shocked by President Smith's potty mouth, or his general harshness in speaking to and about others. What may surprise some fans is how breezy and ultimately tame this satire is." & "Mamet's punch-line-packed script is zestfully directed by Joe Mantello and served by a first-rate cast. Lane's timing and expressions are impeccable, whether Smith is having a fit or suppressing a smirk. Laurie Metcalf and Dylan Baker match and enhance the leading man's witty efficiency as the speechwriter and chief of staff. "
"Take away the gleeful dirty talk and sneak a peak under the exuberantly shameless scams and ... or, on second thought, don't do that. Without the cavalcade of forbidden words and a lingering hope of subversive surprise, there is almost nothing that would identify 'November' as the work of David Mamet."
"Sneaky and scabrously funny "November," he has crafted a gimlet-eyed parable of losing, of resignation ï¿½ not the Nixon-on-the-lawn flameout variety, but the subtler, quieter type." & "Mr. Mamet's exorbitantly incompetent commander in chief, is played by Nathan Lane, who once again shows himself to be Broadway's most fearless and unerring stage comedian on a decibel-for-decibel level."
New York Sun
"Indeed one doesn't think of Mamet, who has written his share of cryptic plays ("The Cryptogram," for one) and who is known for his liberal use of four-letter words, as a flat-out funny writer. But flat-out funny is what he does in "November," and he does it extremely well."
Jacques le Sourd
"No one in the world can make anguish as hilarious as Nathan Lane. And in "November," a very slight but extremely funny political comedy, David Mamet has written him the perfect role: a character whose life is running the gamut from frustration to misery."
"You might be forgiven for thinking that Nathan Lane was shot out of a cannon when the curtain rises on 'November,' David Mamet's maniacally funny new comedy now producing waves of laughter." & "The cleverly jumbled plot, ... demands comic actors at the top of their form. The cast, which also includes Laurie Metcalf and Dylan Baker, deftly navigates its way through the thicket of laughs, nailing every one.
"As much as Mamet's work, it's also "The Nathan Lane Show," providing the actor with his best comic showcase since "The Producers." As widely despised president Charles H.P. Smith, Lane keeps the comedy buoyant with his high-energy turn, balancing unapologetic brashness and boldfaced shysterism with a deluded sense of his own martyrdom. "