David Mamet's political farce November, which ran for six months on Broadway in 2008, gets a crackling revival at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Of course, this is lightweight Mamet, stuffed with one-line throwaways and f-bombs. But, in this election season, with the presidential campaigns spending billions and the attack ads flooding the airwaves, even the most farfetched farce has a remarkable resonance.
Leading the charge into absurdity is President Charles "Chucky" Smith -- played with comic ferocity by Ed Begley, Jr. President "Chucky" is facing certain defeat in his upcoming re-election, mostly because he has done nothing as president and everybody in the country hates him. Not to mention the fact that all his donors have dried up and even the future of his presidential library -- the loser's booby prize -- is in doubt.
His only remaining supporter is his loyal aide Archer Brown (the talented Rod McLachlan) who, after unsuccessfully urging the president to throw in the towel, helps Chucky hatch a variety of harebrained schemes to salvage the election. The most outrageous idea is to pressure America's turkey producers (in the person of their spokesperson, played by Todd Weeks), to fork over $200 million in exchange for the traditional presidential pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey.
Rounding out the festivities as a counterpoint to the naked corruption and criminality in the Oval Office is lesbian speechwriter Clarice Bernstein (in a hilarious turn by Felicity Huffman), who has just returned from adopting a baby girl in China with her life partner. Of course, Bernstein has her own agenda which she is pressing on the president.
Like any good farce, this play pushes the envelope -- and then some. Mamet has lots of zingers that are entirely appropriate in this silly season of electoral politics. While the script is as much Borscht Belt as Broadway, and doesn't hold a candle to the reality show that is contemporary American politics, it is a funny and wickedly enjoyable escape from the real farce playing out daily on cable news.
Begley, who often projects a laid-back profile, attacks the role with a fierce earnestness that is the hallmark of a terrific farceur. He rips into Mamet's one-liners, reeling off absurdly impassioned tirades that we all recognize from real-life politicians. McLachlan is the perfectly tuned foil, feeding the ego and desperation of his political charge, and acting as the political straight man. Huffman is a gem as the lesbian speechwriter, crusading for her cause while sharpening a knife to be stabbed into the back of an unsuspecting opponent. Gregory Cruz and Todd Weeks are sharp and solid in supporting roles.
From Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart to HBO's Veep, political satire is back in vogue, not only because it is election season, but also because our political system continues to offer targets for humor that are wider than a Missouri barn door. Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that if hope and change don't work out, we'll at least have a few good laughs.
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