Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of La Cage aux Folles
November is a politically prescient satire that anticipates an egomaniacal, transactional Donald Trump in some very creepy ways. There is a point in the play in which the president of the United States (the whole play takes place in the "Oval," as Trump-folk like to call that special cornerless room of the White House where big executive decisions get made) says without a hint of sarcasm: "This is a democracy, where people make the laws. So you bribe them. Everyone wants something." The production's crackerjack director Nicholas Ballas not only understands the play's relevance to this Meow Wolf funhouse of a political era we're all trying to navigate through, but he's very good at helping his actors punch those lines that give you the goose bumps. At one point President Charles Smith even tosses out the axiom that you can't build a fence to keep out illegal aliens without having illegal aliens do the building. (Something that a good many border-state conservatives are happy to exploit while not spilling the beans to Dear Leader.)
The plotif we can call it a plothinges on the impending defeat of President Smith in his run for re-election. He's immensely unpopular and no one is funding his campaign. He and his legal adjutant Archer Brown therefore resort to scheming to use the annual turkey-pardoning tradition to extort millions of dollars out of the country's turkey growers. With all this gobblin' lucre they can finance a last ditch shot at reviving Smith's campaign and keep him in the White House, where his unapologetic greed and unabashed meretriciousness can run rampant for another four years. President Smith's need for his brilliant female speechwriter Clarice Bernstein to write a Thanksgiving Day speech to seal his legacy, requires something in return: she wants him to officiate her weddingher lesbian wedding, this important plot point being put to paper by Mamet eight years before the history-making SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. While Mamet was spot-on in taking his complaints about monetizing presidential power to a Barnum & Bailey extreme, his prognostication skills fell short when it came to not predicting the speed with which the country would legalize, codify, and majority-embrace gay marriage. One of the challenges of this production, then, becomes keeping the show's whacked-out mayhem relevant when one of its primary McGuffinsmarriage equalitysmacks of anachronism.
Happily, the cast just deals. The wedding dress is beautiful and Jody Durham plays her straight-man (straight-woman) part with the same straight-faced aplomb as did Kitty Carlisle in A Night at the Opera and Maureen O'Sullivan in A Day at the Races. (I have the strong desire to nickname this play An Afternoon in the Oval.) Robert Nott skillfully plays all the chaos and the laughs with nary a smirk, and Geoffrey Pomeroy is wonderfully Huckabee-Sanderish in his devoted toadyism. And in two minor roles that energize all the swirling frenzy, Campbell Martin as the turkey industry's Chicken Little version of an NRA president, and Fredrick Lopez's deliciously venal Chief Dwight Grackle (really, is a humongous casino-hotel on Nantucket Island too much for an Indian tribe to ask?) give us repeated primings of the production's comedy pump.
The set designed by Mr. Ballasa replica of the Oval Officeis perfectly serviceable and appropriate for this small stage in which things can otherwise get cluttered quite easily. I also liked the Sousaian lead-in music. The pace of this production could have been picked up in places; the rule of thumb with Mamet is usually: if you think the velocity of the patter is fast enough, it ain't. Some of Mamet's sharp lines work better when they're ratatatted shotgun-like rather than tossed like single grenades.
If you like Mamet, come see this play. If you like Christopher Durang, come see this play. But more importantly, if you like the wonderful Brigadoonian season of professional theater that the talented folks with the New Mexico Actors Lab give us each year, definitely come see this play. This is their last offering before they go into hibernation. (Not quite fair: during the remainder of the year they stage a popular reading series.)
November, through August 19, 2018, at Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie B, Santa Fe NM. Thursday through Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at www.teatroparaguas.org, www.nmactorslab.com, or by calling 505-424-1601. The running time is slightly under two hours, including one intermission.