Stage Struck Review

Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years

“November” at the Taper: Mamet takes presidential politics for a wild spin

Ed Begley, Jr. as the fumbling President in David Mamet’s “November” at the Mark Taper Forum (photo by Craig Schwartz)

According to polls, nearly 80% of Americans don’t trust politicians very much. Sometimes the work they do may seem noble, but most of the time we have come to see those who lead our country, be they in Congress or the White House, as having rather remarkable feet of clay. As the hyperbole flies and the tension mounts toward this upcoming federal election, it’s good to take a moment and laugh at the idiocies of the lofty.

And that is what you will do in David Mamet’s “November,” the new play at the Mark Taper Forum. There an admittedly abysmal president, with virtually no chance of reelection, swims in a sea of myopia, self-aggrandizement, and false hope, grasping alternatively at funding for his cash-poor library and for a deluge of last minute campaign media. The satire is biting. The farce hangs on the intertwined agendas of a politician of limited intelligence in panic mode. By comparison the real government isn’t half bad.

Ed Begley, Jr. leads the cast as President Charles Smith, whose approval rating is scraping the floor only a couple of weeks before the election. His funding has run out to such an extent he may have no legacy. His wife wants to take a White House couch home. His lesbian speechwriter has just returned from China with a baby, and wants to marry her partner. The guy from the turkey board wants him to pardon a turkey. And maybe, just maybe, if he can find the funding, he can end his campaign with a blitz of advertising which could keep him in office.

Begley makes Smith hysterically funny, powering Mamet’s outrageously apt dialogue along at light speed. It’s 90 minutes with no intermission, but things fly by so quickly you simply don’t notice. Rod Mclachlan, as his chief of staff, provides the perfect counterpoint: just a hair slower to speak, trying to reason with a man in panic, but still a man who is too close to the situation to handle it well.

Todd Weeks, as the geeky Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey By-Products Manufacturers, balances obsequience and an internal logic which makes his contact with the president difficult to navigate. Felicity Huffman, as the speechwriter dragged into the room despite a horrible cold, becomes the picture of detachment and logic that crazed room. Gregory Cruz completes the picture as a Native American leader, angry over the president’s cultural insensitivities.

All good farces must move at quite a clip. “November” is no exception. The dialogue is delivered by this ensemble with pinpoint timing, staying clear at a remarkable clip. The physical energy as people charge about has the audience nearly vibrating by the end, and consistently and humorously engaged.

Of course, there are those who would be appalled (though, after the Nixon tapes, hardly surprised) to find out that the President of the U.S. cusses a blue streak behind closed doors. Or, indeed, that the President is as dim as Smith, or as self-absorbed. But this play does not represent itself as a mirror of anything except our tendency to assume politicians in general are probably less than they seem.

And it’s funny – funny like any good farce. Ridiculous things happen and you laugh. Surprises are constant, and you laugh. That you get to laugh at the whole idea of a President and campaigning is a gift Mamet and the Taper have given to a weary electorate. Taking a look at this will make even the antics of the upcoming debates seem calm and reasonable.

What: “November” When: Through November 4, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays Where: Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $20 – $75 Info: (213) 628-2772 or

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