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David Mamet's 'November': Another side of presidential politics

Profane, cynical, audacious, loquacious — November, opening this weekend at Muse Arts Warehouse, is everything we’ve come to expect in a play by David Mamet.

From American Buffalo to Glengarry Glen Ross to Oleanna, the playwright’s works are visceral, brittle and bitterly accurate snapshots of American lives in disarray.

Oh, and November is a comedy. Ta-da!

“I love it because it’s a layered comedy,” says Christopher Soucy, who’s directing the Muse production. “It kind of sneaks in. And it is truly ridiculous.

“But at some points you get these really genuine laughs, almost good–natured laughs at horrible situations.”

In a nutshell, November is about Charles P. Smith, America’s presidential incumbent, on the brink of what he would really like to be his re–election.

But Smith — played by motor-mouthed Nathan Lane in the show’s 2008 Broadway run — is a venal human being, a lying, cheating, racist politician who’ll stop at nothing, and step on anyone, to get what he wants.

Mamet wrote November during the final years of George W. Bush’s administration.

“It’s not a cynical play,” the playwright told New York magazine. “I might flatter myself by calling it a populist play, because there’s one polemic going on between the president, who’s unutterably corrupt, and his speechwriter, who’s in his view unutterably naive.”

Mamet has swum similarly political waters before, with his 1997 screenplay for the farce Wag the Dog, about a Washington spin doctor who concocts a fake war to distract the voting public from a presidential sex scandal.

But November, points out Soucy, has a much more generalized agenda. “Even in this highly politicized place, the Oval Office, he (Mamet) manages to create a world where these people are surviving and living,” the director says. “Not dictated by their political agendas.”

Smith is played here by Mark Rand, last seen in An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein at Bay Street Theatre.

“There’s really not any partisan politics in it,” says Rand. In fact, he adds, Smith’s party affiliation is never even mentioned. “It’s really just the horrible–ness of politicians in general.”

The comedy is born out of one politically incorrect man’s pathetic need to keep feeding off the illusion he’s created.

Only in America.

“He reaches the desperate point of going out of office completely broke,” says Rand, “with no prospects. He has hopes of being re–elected, but it sounds like there’s not a chance, that everybody hates him and has been waiting for him to get out. His wife is planning their post–White House life, and the staff are looking at what they’re going to be doing tomorrow.”

Mamet, offers Soucy, “has a mastery over the language. He creates syntax that, when you read it or start thinking about it, seems awkward in your mouth or in your brain, but by the time it’s in action it seems so natural.”

In the world of theater, this has come to be known as “Mamet–speak.”

The director suggests anyone expected the usual Mamet dramatic fish–gutting leave their expectations at the door.

“One of the challenges of directing anything that is well–known is, you have to fight a lot of people’s perceptions and interpretations,” Soucy says. “Mamet is a style of his own. This doesn’t look like a Mamet show.

“Although it does have a central male character, who’s desperate. You could have dropped Charles P. Smith into Glengarry Glen Ross, he would’ve been fine. He would’ve fit right in.

“Unfortunately, he became President of the United States.”


Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 8 p.m. March 22, 23, 24, 29 and 30 (no performances March 25 and 31); at 3 p.m. April 1

Tickets: $10