Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York
David Mamet's new play, "November," might concern an American president, but it isn't much in the way of decorousness. Indeed, in this comedy by the author of such plays as "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "American Buffalo," there's more profane language on display in the Oval Office than during the entirety of the Nixon administration.
Mamet, who first demonstrated a proclivity toward political satire with his sharp-edged screenplay for "Wag the Dog," is working in a more frivolous mode here. His main character is Charles Smith (Nathan Lane), a decidedly ineffectual chief executive who is about to get unceremoniously bounced out of office in an imminent election.
Smith has few compunctions about corruption but little talent for it: His financial resources are so depleted that he won't even be able to get his long-desired presidential library. But he sees a way out of his problem when a turkey industry representative (Ethan Phillips) arrives for the ceremonial pardoning of a Thanksgiving bird. At first, Smith just hits him up for a larger donation, but then he gets an idea. He threatens to pardon every turkey in America unless the industry honchos fork up $200 million to his re-election campaign.
This gives you a good idea of the general silliness of the play, which has the feel of a comedy sketch padded out to unfortunate length. By the time it reaches its conclusion, which includes an Indian chief (Michael Nichols) armed with a deadly blow-gun who is demanding half of Nantucket island, the humor has long begun to pale.
It's a shame, because the play is rollickingly and profanely funny at times. It helps, of course, that the lead role is played by Lane, who scores constant laughs with his perfect timing and aggressive comic delivery. He's given excellent support by the other performers, including the marvelously understated Dylan Baker as Smith's droll chief of staff and the wonderfully wacky Laurie Metcalf as a lesbian speechwriter who blackmails her boss to force him to legalize gay marriage.
Director Joe Mantello keeps the farcical proceedings moving at the requisitely sprightly pace, and the handsome production features a well-appointed Oval Office set designed by Scott Pask. But it's hard not to wish, especially in these politically fractious times, that this gifted playwright had something a little more relevant to say.
Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals, Bat-Barry Prods., Michael Cohl, Ergo Entertainment, Michael Filerman, Ronald Frankel, Barbara & Buddy Freitag, James Fuld Jr., Roy Furman, JK Prods., Harold Thau, Jamie deRoy/Ted Snowdon and Wendy Federman
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Joe Mantello
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: Laura Bauer
Lighting designer: Paul Gallo
Charles Smith: Nathan Lane
Archer Brown: Dylan Baker
A Representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers: Ethan Phillips
Clarice Bernstein: Laurie Metcalf
Dwight Grackle: Michael Nichols