By Beki Pineda
NOVEMBER. Written by David Mamet; directed by John Ashton. Produced by the Avenue Theater (417 East 17th Ave., Denver) through May 21. Tickets available at 303-321-5925 or www.avenuetheater.com.
Earlier this season we went “All the Way with LBJ.” Now we get a slightly different angle on a Presidential re-election campaign. Charles Smith (the brilliant Kevin Hart making a return engagement) has become the most hated president in modern history. Even his campaign manager doesn’t want to put any money into his re-election. Smith has accepted the inevitable and has become obsessed with finding some money for his presidential Library. An opportunity for bribery presents itself in the person of a representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products (Bernie Cardell) seeking the traditional pardoning of the turkey during Thanksgiving. Additional pressure is put on Smith when his talented speechwriter (Amie MacKenzie) asks him to marry her and her girlfriend in the White House (this is before the current same-sex marriage laws were passed). The true mettle of this president is determined by how he handles these situations. Oh, and getting there is so much fun.
This crazy script retains the high-speed overlapping dialogue that characterizes Mamet’s scripts. The emphasis is on comedy, however, rather than the darker side of modern life that he usually tackles. The rapid-fire dialogue and almost psychic communication between President Smith and his long-suffering assistant, Archer Brown (Eric Mather), quickly present the exposition necessary to reveal the current situation and demonstrate the connection between the two. They finish each other’s sentences, and convey understanding and a change of mood with just a glance. Brown’s attempts to guide Smith to the higher ground are usually thwarted—but it’s so much fun to watch the attempt. Even the never-seen characters who communicate over the phone seem to be engaging in the same speedy speech as the prez listens, tries to interrupt, and is pushed back to silence.
Kevin Hart is brilliant in this role; it is as though Mamet wrote it expressly for him. His personal speaking style enhances the character, and though the dialogue comes at you nonstop, you miss not a word. Eric Mather as his assistant is a perfect foil, trying to maintain a reasonable stance yet repeatedly failing in the face of presidential power. He has the demeanor of a presidential aide with his buttoned-down look and his easy familiarity.
Amie MacKenzie (how nice to see her back on stage after too long an absence!) plays Bernstein, the speechwriter with a gift for turning straw into gold. She has just returned from adopting a daughter in China and has a galloping case of the crud. She plays the whole evening talking through her nose and sneezing. Bernie Cardell, with his unstoppable comic timing and gift for playing surprise, brings a new sense of desperation to the Turkey Guy. His place between a rock and a hard place is played to the hilt. And when he turns, he turns with a vengeance. Sam Gilstrap makes a late appearance as Chief Dwight Grackle, an American Indian who is demanding the return of Nantucket Island to his tribe for casino purposes—just to add one more problem to the president’s last days in office.
Let’s just say this play may change your vote—or at least, how you think about the people who inhabit the Oval Office.
Wow factor: 9