It's clear right from the start that the White House comedy November will be light-and-funny David Mamet. How bad can my numbers be?" the President asks his right-hand man. You broke the meter" is the reply. Ba-dum-bum.
One doesn't expect the author of Glengarry Glen Ross and Olanna to write a play packed with one-liners. But don't forget that Mamet also wrote the very funny Off Broadway play Boston Marriage and the very funny indie movie State and Main. In November, Mamet satirizes election-year politics and takes aim-loosely-at George W. Bush. But there are so many jokes that it usually feels more like a two-hour sitcom than a political satire.
Nathan Lane plays lame-duck President Charles Smith, bogged down in an unpopular war and lacking funds to pay for campaign ads-or a Presidential library after he slinks out of office. Even White House Counsel Archer Brown (Dylan Baker) has given up hope of his boss being reelected. Everybody hates you and you have no cash," he says bluntly. Go home." But since it's time to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving, Smith comes up with the bright idea of extorting money from a representative of turkey manufacturers (Ethan Phillips). And he gets his head speechwriter (Laurie Metcalf) to come up with something inspiring to jump-start his campaign.
Most of the fun, especially in the first act, comes from watching Lane's President yell at his staff as he becomes increasingly apoplectic. (True to form, Mamet isn't shy about using the f-word.) At some points Lane's face becomes so red that one fears he'll suffer a stroke. Needless to say, the actor knows how to make boiling over with rage hilarious, and the audience responds with frequent laughter. But there's no other source of comedy until the second act, when the plot becomes more engaging (think gay marriage) and Metcalf's speechwriter finally has something to do besides battle a cold. Metcalf, who acted with Steppenwolf before she starred in TV's Roseanne, makes the most of her big moments. And as an Indian chief from Nantucket, Michael Nichols also contributes to the merriment in the second act.
Director Joe Mantello keeps the jokes coming at a zippy tempo, and Scott Pask's ersatz Oval Office is perfect. Still, the degree to which one enjoys November largely depends on how much one likes Lane, who lands every punchline like the pro he is. While the role is tailored to his talents, it would also be fun to see Alec Baldwin play the frazzled Smith. For that matter, I'd like to see a darker, less jokey take on Presidential politics from Mamet. Perhaps he'll write one in time for the 2012 election.