Sunday, October 10, 2010

NOVEMBER • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The St. Louis Actors' Studio begins its fourth season with David Mamet's NOVEMBER.  Mamet's known for exposing the more corrupt under-belly of things, exploring the decadence people are capable of with a writing style that has come to be known as "Mamet speak", exemplified in plays like his 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner, Glengarry Glen Ross.  Mamet also co-authored the screenplay for the 1997 film “Wag the Dog” that like NOVEMBER, featured Oval Office hijinks and manipulations -- with the president hiring a Hollywood producer to stage a fake war to distract the public from a sex scandal.

So, it's days before the election, and a very unpopular incumbent president, Charles H. P. Smith, is in a dire situation.  His poll numbers are "lower than Gandhi's cholesterol".  When he asks his lawyer why people hate him so much his lawyer replies, "Because you fucked up everything you touched."  Not only that, but his political allies have pulled the financial plug and his devoted speechwriter is on vacation.  Smith is desperate to get re-elected and secure the funds for his presidential library, or at least leave the white house with a little cash in his own pocket.  What's a commander-in-chief to do?

Alan Knoll.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
This look at a day in the life of a soon to be ex-president has him doing everything from trying to bleed the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers dry by selling the annual presidential turkey pardon, to having to deal with a Native American chief who wants to build a hotel casino on Nantucket, to conniving with the pork industry, who have already provided him with a pork industry-sponsored “piggy plane” for the exportation of dissidents to Bulgaria.  His lesbian speech writer, Clarice Bernstein, has the formidable task of trying to get the public back on his side with the speech of a lifetime -- but agrees to do so only if the president will marry her and her partner on television.

Alan Knoll does an excellent job in a tough role.  I mean, not only did he have to navigate Mamet's rapid fire f-bomb filled tirades, but here you have a main character -- kind of an idiot, insulting every racial, ethnic and special interest group throughout the play -- who has to try to somehow get the audience in his corner.  John Krewson as his no-nonsense advisor Archer Brown plays a great "straight man" to Knoll's lunacy.  Michelle Hand as the put upon speechwriter, Bernstein, who just wants to marry her partner, provides you with the only person you can really root for.  The cast is rounded out by Chopper Leifheit as the Turkey Representative, and Alan McClintock as Chief Dwight Grackle.

Alan McClintock, John Krewson, Michelle Hand
and Alan Knoll.
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Foul mouthed, incompetent political power players attempting extortion at every turn with politically incorrect views of the world isn't anything new to anyone who watches the news every now and then.  Maybe that's why, as much as I enjoyed the show, I couldn't get as into it as I thought I'd be able to.  You're assaulted with so many one-liners and over the top developments it felt more like a really long sketch comedy to me than a play.  When this play opened in 2008, Bush was in office, and maybe theatre-goers had more of an appetite for this kind of farce.  Regardless, while it may not be Glengarry Glen Ross, this play does have a lot of laughs, and was a big hit with the opening weekend audience, who laughed from beginning to end.


Written by David Mamet
Directed by Bobby Miller
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through October 24 | tickets: $24.25 - $29.75
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Alan Knoll* (Charles Smith), Chopper Leifheit* (Representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers), John Krewson (Archer Brown), Michelle Hand (Clarice Bernstein) and Alan McClintock (Chief Dwight Grackle).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Costumes by Bonnie Kruger; set/lighting design by Patrick Huber.

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