Maybe you thought you’d had enough of politics this year, but if your attention has been sucked into the vacuum of the current presidential election, the Hampton Theatre Company’s new production of David Mamet’s “November” could help inoculate you against the drama of the real election’s home stretch.
“November” takes place in the waning days of mythical President Charles Smith’s first term in office. It’s November of 2008, the public hates him, and even his campaign committee has given up on his re-election bid.
Along with his advisor, Archer Brown and his speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein, he concocts a harebrained scheme to stay in office that involves soliciting a bribe from a turkey industry lobbyist and conducting an on-air same sex marriage for Ms. Bernstein, which was illegal at the time.
The entire play is set in the Oval Office — neat and consistently starkly lit, with fresh upholstery and a fresh coat of paint on the walls — but not clean enough to disguise the minds at work within its walls. On the president’s too-small desk are two old telephones, one red and one black.
Only Archer Brown seems to have a sixth sense for which one is ringing and the importance of the messages being relayed.
As this is a David Mamet play, the dialogue is tight and profanity-laden. HTC has devoted some of its best talent to the production, masterfully directed by HTC artistic director Diana Marbury.
Andrew Botsford, who most recently appeared on the HTC stage in last spring’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” stars as President Smith. He’s a meek and hen-pecked man with a dangerous ego, who apologetically launches out each profanity-laden bit of dialogue as if he were a man who came up through Donald Trump’s locker room but never reaped any of its supposed rewards.
Matthew Conlon, another familiar face on the HTC stage who starred in the company’s productions of “Harvey” and “The Foreigner,” serves dutifully as President Smith’s sidekick, Archer. His advice flies off the cuff. His apologies are gulped and get caught in his throat. His affect is as perfectly groomed as the fake Stephen Colbert.
Did I mention this play is a comedy? The chemistry and timing between the duo above is what keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and laughing.
I’ve seen Rebecca Edana, who plays Clarice Bernstein, in three other HTC productions, and once again she becomes so immersed in her character that I didn’t recognize her from previous shows.
Just back from China with her lesbian partner and a baby in tow, President Smith calls her in to rewrite the story of Thanksgiving. She’d been at home with a cold writing his concession speech, even though the president is still convinced he has a chance at winning.
When she’s finally dragged into the Oval Office to work, you’ll feel the office-borne germs floating around the stage. You might even grab for a box of tissues. She mopes and sniffles and finally comes up with some great fragments of speech ideas, tied together with silly putty, about the ‘shade-tree mechanics’ who built America, the exploitative nature of Thanksgiving and the desire to marry someone you love, regardless of gender.
Of course, the speech is ridiculous. I did mention this play is a comedy.
Matthew O’Connor, who plays the unnamed “Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products Manufacturers,” turned in my favorite performance of the night. He says in his program bio that he’s “happier than a Pardoned Turkey to be back on stage at HTC after an eight-year absence,” and so was I.
His internal turmoil — from glee at the power his lobby’s money gives him to anger at the president for being, well, a turkey, to his concern for the well-being of the two turkeys he has brought for the president to pardon — is a joy to watch. I hope to see Mr. O’Connor back on the HTC stage again soon.
Rob Byrnes as Chief Dwight Grackle of the Micmac Nation, who bursts into the Oval Office to upset the entire scheme, is a caricature, and he’s aptly played as such.
Director Diana Marbury warns the audience at the beginning of the evening that this play will offend everybody. It does.
But it doesn’t offend everybody nearly as much as the real campaign we are witnessing today. In a strange way, the kind of “offending everybody” on stage here seemed to bring everybody in the audience closer together. And that’s just part of the strangeness brought out by this election year.
“November” continues at the Quogue Community Hall through Nov. 6. Shows on Thursdays and Fridays are at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. There will be an additional matinee performance on the final weekend of the production, on Saturday, November 5, at 2:30 p.m., in addition to the regular 8 p.m. performance.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for senior citizens over 65. New this season, the HTC is also offering $15 discount tickets for audience members 35 and under.
To reserve tickets, visit www.hamptontheatre.org, or call OvationTix at 1.866.811.4111.