Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre presents David Mamet’s “November” in September. This comedy takes place in the oval office as an incumbent President wrestles with appalling numbers in the waning days of the campaign. President Charles Smith (Chuck) is also obsessed with establishing a Presidential Library in the interests of posterity. He is also exceedingly interested in leaving the office of the President with a pocketful of pennies times several million dollars. In short, he is the President that exhibits all of the worst characteristics of the self-serving greedy politician. He does so in a beautifully detailed recreation of the oval office. The set is as near to the actual oval office as is humanly possible and has all the little touches that make the office real to viewers.
While the visual parallels are apparent, this is not a partisan play. It is a slap-stick farcical comedy that just happens to take place in the oval office. The characters are rather buffoonish and do not exhibit any trace of the nobility that Presidents should at least feign in order to be elected the first time out.
Director Donald Jordan describes the play as: ‘West Wing meets South Park’ and that is certainly an apt description. The language is salty, unnaturally so as President Smith decides to bribe the Representative of the Turkey industry. In order for the turkeys to receive the annual Presidential Pardon for Thanksgiving, the industry must pay $200 Million Dollars. The premise is completely ridiculous allowing the audience to separate the characters from any persons living or dead. Marcellus Hankins as President Smith creates a selfish one-dimensional man in a suit without a shred of humanity underneath. He is assisted by longtime loyal aide Archer Brown skillfully portrayed by Steve Emerson. The Turkey Guy (third man in a suit) is brought to light by Matthew E. Ellis. The hi-jinx are quite hilarious and the language would make a sailor blush. While many politicians do exhibit these unpleasant traits, they all develop a public façade designed to encourage trust and passion. In this play, that façade is never revealed so no humor can be derived from contrast. The three suits are total buffoons, and they are indeed funny.
Kris Schinske is Clarice Bernstein, Presidential speechwriter and practicing lesbian. Her character does exhibit some redeeming qualities, so that the comedy seems more natural. Dwight Grackle, Chief of the Micmac People is expertly portrayed by Jon Haque in full regalia. Blackmailing President Smith into turning over Nantucket entirely for the purposes of a casino is an objective Haque makes plausible.
The play is not only intended to be non-partisan, it is also intended to be a lighthearted roast of stereotypically corrupt politicos. The timing seems perfect for this production from 2008. “November” in the September before an incumbent President struggles for a second term.
Unexpectedly, the humor is tempered by the reality that, collectively, Americans begin to take the upcoming election seriously at this time of year. This is the time we begin to develop our passion for our potential president, and the one-dimensional representation seems to patriotic Americans more shallow than funny. It is passion that vaults us to the polls and “November” would be hilarious in July or January, but may seem a bit uncomfortable for September for passionately patriotic patrons.
CityRep’s “November” shows at the Civic Center Music Hall in the CitySpace Theatre through September 23, 2012. Performance time is 7:30pm to accommodate parking for patrons. For reservations call 405-848-3761 or visit www.cityrep.com.