An election year may not be the best time to stage David Mamet’s presidential-election comedy, November.
The play pales in comparison to the real thing. But I’m not sure any time is good for staging this insipid, tedious slog of a show.
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre is giving it a go at CitySpace under the direction of Donald Jordan. Audiences can vote with their feet.
November was written during the George W. Bush administration, and the play’s President Charles Smith (Marcellus Hankins) is a buffoon as clueless as Reagan and venal as former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. One of the idiotic questions that Smith asks throughout the play is, “Aren’t we at war with China?” Not yet, he’s told.
Smith is afraid of losing the upcoming election, so he tries to shake down a lobbyist from the National Association of Turkey Manufacturers (Matthew Ellis) for $200 million for his presidential library. He threatens to “pardon” all turkeys just before Thanksgiving, devastating the turkey-manufacturing industry.
A subplot involves his speechwriter Clarice Bernstein (the fine Kris Schinske, whose talent is squandered here), a lesbian who is pressuring Smith to marry her and her partner.
Mamet just doesn’t have a knack for comedy. That’s different from a knack for humor, which is biting in his dramas. Much of the dialogue is Neil Simon-esque.
The play does have its moments, but they are few and far between, such as when Smith is handed a page of “Today’s off-the-cuff remarks.” The biggest laugh comes when he asks why he can’t build a fence to keep out illegal immigrants and is told, “You need the illegal immigrants to build the fence.”
Hankins’ Smith lacks the gravitas to be believable as a man who made it through the primaries and debates and was elected president, even if he is a buffoon. Thus, he seems more exasperated than angry at facing a difficult re-election.
Mamet may be making the point that it’s hard to believe someone like this could be elected to the highest office in the nation, which some of us are still saying about Reagan and Bush II.