MSQ Review: November – Mark Taper Forum


The saying goes that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Arguably the sharpest pen in theatre belongs to David Mamet whose plays challenge our views of human behavior in all walks of life. With his new play, November, his pen has broken and has been replaced by a dull #2 pencil.

President Charles Smith (Ed Begley, Jr.) is trailing miserably in polls for re-election. His aide Archer Brown (Rod McLachlan) is trying to encourage him to give up and prepare for life after office. His unseen wife is worried about money and Smith wants to build a library, something he believes is guaranteed by the Constitution. Along comes the annual Thanksgiving ritual of pardoning a turkey – an early meeting since the Presidential election occurs well before the holiday. The representative of the National Association of Turkey (Todd Weeks) wants the President to pardon two turkeys. They’ve previously paid $50,000 for this stunt but Smith smells an opportunity for more money. This sets in motion the rest of the play which includes his lesbian speech writer (Felicity Huffman) who wants to marry her partner and a disgruntled American Indian (Gregory Cruz.)

Mr. Mamet is shooting fish in a barrel here. They are all soft targets and nothing he says in this play equals the absurdity of the American political landscape. As crazy as this campaign season has become (battling over Big Bird?) it seems inevitable that November would be outdated as soon as it was written. Gone is the usual Mamet sting that lingers. This is clearly a farce, but so is contemporary politics. 

Mr. Begley, Jr. appeared to be suffering from vocal problems on opening night. When the show opened on Broadway Nathan Lane played the President. His larger-than-life persona seems more appropriate than Mr. Begley’s more centered performance. The real joy in the cast is Ms. Huffman. I don’t know if director Scott Zigler asked her to be more naturalistic than the rest of the cast, but she steals the show. She also seems to be in a different — and perhaps more interesting — play.

Mr. Mamet is one of our finest writers, but keeping up with the likes of Todd Akin puts November in the category of a failed campaign. I vote no.

[Photo by Craig Schwartz]

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