Left – Garry McDonald. Cover – Peter Michell and Garry McDonald.
This is not Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet’s only super cynical look into the Oval Office, but it is a fun one. November, like his earlier film, Wag the Dog is a wonderful spoof of the most powerful office in the free world, and shows his ability to connect with the Australian proclivity for cynicism about power and politicians. So the audience understands it from the outset, and the well-seasoned Garry McDonald in the lead role makes it thoroughly understandable and suitably laughable. And there is plenty to laugh at.
It is a few days before election in which the lame duck president is seeking a second term in office. He wheels and deals upon deals in order to raise an obscene amount of money to boost his campaign. Clearly inspired by the absurdities and stupidities of the George Dubbya presidency, this play does not try to imitate or expose GWB himself. Mamet’s President Charles Smith (a fittingly ordinary name!) is far too garrulous, manic and articulate for that, but is certainly self interested and stupid, not to mention bombastic, racist, ignorant and homophobic. McDonald carries this off well, commanding the stage with his physical angularity, rubber face and ability for logorrhoea, ably backed up by Peter Mitchell as the presidential sidekick/flunky (equally ordinarily named Archer Brown).
Other protagonists include Michael Habib, alternately obsequious and hysterical as the Turkey Representative (wanting the president to pardon the Thanksgiving Turkey – seen as a possible source of revenue for the campaign), and Barbara Lowing, the president’s lesbian speech writer. She is convincingly wracked with a cold, but sweeps in to the last scene in a magnificent frock as a bride to be, trying to persuade the president to marry her to her partner on TV before the turkey pardoning. The words Mamet puts into her speech writing are convincing spin that we all hear around election times.
Then there bursts into the scene the Indian Chief the president has insulted, (Jason Chong) brandishing a blow gun, intent on revenge, but open to bribe. By this stage the play has clearly descended into farce. There is the frantic turkey man throwing around handfuls of feathers, the wild Indian, the inconsolable lesbian speechwriter on the floor in a pile of white tulle, saved from the blow pipe’s dart by a chinese amulet, alarms about bird flu and exploding turkeys, and the inept buffoon of a president leaping about and shouting.
All this happens in a very fine replica of the Oval Office – the set by Victoria Lamb - and is directed with panache by Adam Cook. It is a funny play, although dampened somewhat by overexposure of the F word, which is thrown around too liberally and rather unnecessarily. It is unlikely to enter the annals of classic plays that will be around in a hundred years, but it is a good laugh and appeals to Australian cynicism about politics and our leaders, as we follow faithfully in Uncle Sam’s footsteps.
State Theatre Company of SA presents
by David Mamet
Director Adam Cook
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 2 – 22 May 2011
Tickets: $49.00 – $29.00