Saturday, October 01, 2011
NOVEMBER is relevant but humorous rather than hysterically funny at Lakeland
The dialogue writing style of David Mamet, the author of NOVEMBER, which is now being staged at The Civic Theatre at Lakeland Community College, is so unique that it actually has a name all its own.
Mamet speak is a cynical, street-smart, edgy way of talking. In his writing Mamet often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight particular words. The intent is to make the actors aware of how to stress certain terms, and that many sentences won’t be completed, and in speaking his ideas the performers need to overlap their speeches. A production of his works requires glib and fast-paced speaking.
He doesn’t write pretty, he writes blunt. He uses four letter words, not to shock, but in the natural flow of speech. He states things that many would find outlandish, but, in reality, are truths (or his version of the truth) and thought provoking. Ideas come from the mouths of his characters, ideas that many think, but few say. Many of his thoughts are outlandish, laugh-out-loud, and obscene in words and connotation.
NOVEMBER opened on Broadway in 2008 to mixed reviews. The positive comments included: "savage merriment . . . delightful . . . wild . . . brilliant." It was dubbed "vaudeville meets current events.”
The script is filled with satirical stabs at American politics, the public, special interest groups, women, and about everything else that Mamet’s darts happen to hit.
Meet President Charles Smith, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, the most corrupt, inept, unliked scheming buffoon ever to sit in the Oval Office. It's the final days of his bid for a second term. The country is a mess, his poll numbers are "lower than Gandhi's cholesterol count" and defeat is certain. He needs to get money for his Presidential library, his political party won’t help, and he’s so broke that he wants to take the sofa in the Oval Office with him when he departs.
Add to this his lesbian speechwriter longing to marry her sweetheart on national television, a cynical chief of staff, Thanksgiving turkeys awaiting to be pardoned, and a wife who almost causes the third World War because she spreads the rumor that there is going to be a nuclear attack on or by Iran, and you have the potential for hysteria.
Unfortunately, the Lakeland show, under the direction of Martin Friedman, doesn’t live up to the potential of the script.
In the Broadway show Nathan Lane, who played the President, was credited with being "glib and jaunty" and “knowing exactly how to pitch such lines, with a time-honed style that allows him to put the maximum spin on poisonous zingers and still keep the audience on his side.” Though he puts out full effort, Robert Hawkes doesn’t have Lane’s comic timing or bigger than life presence.
Andrew Narten as Archer Brown, Smith’s chief of staff, underplays the role. There is no Chaney evilness or Carl Rowe slithering here. It would have helped.
Anne McEvoy is fine as Clarice, the speech writer. She develops a consistent and believable character. Abigail Brace Allwein stays on the surface with little character development as Turkey Gal and the same can be said for Robert McCoy as Dwight Grackle, the Indian chief.
The show lacks precise timing and doesn’t lead up to and stress the comic aspects of the lines. It plays safe. It needs to be outrageous. The cast needs to let loose, thus insuring the audience has fun. As is, it’s smile material.
The Oval Office of the White House is well depicted here, but the view out the window is wrong. Having worked at the White House, I’m aware that the windows look out over the Rose Garden and the massive back lawn, not at the Capitol Building which is miles away and east, not south of the White House.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: NOVEMBER is a script full of biting satire and sharp dialogue. The Lakeland production is humorous, but needed to be outrageously funny.