ACT presents David Mamet’s
Now until November 22

NOVEMBER is David Mamet’s return to the humorous and absurd side of American politics. Despite his harsh and zany treatment of the president’s corruption and the realities of the American political process, Mamet says, “It’s not a cynical play. 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 is in his view unutterably naïve. At one point she says to him, ‘People say we’re a country divided but we’re not a country divided; what we are is a democracy.’
“And I think that is the meeting ground of the two positions. The only country that’s not divided is totalitarian.”
Whenever I see a Mamet play I hate all the characters. They are always composites of everything that is the worst and most despicable in human nature. However, this time in this production, I did not. Charles Smith, the president (Andrew Polk)is a disgusting combination of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush and yet he does have a bit of a conscience when he feels guilty about breaking his promise to marry his speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein (René Augesen) to her partner even though he has not a moments remorse for bilking the National Association of Turkey and Turkey by-products out of a couple million dollars for him to pardon their turkeys. “Only Mamet could write such a scathing political satire about the pardoning of a turkey,” said director Ron Lagomarsino. “What I love about NOVEMBER is that no one escapes unscathed. The president is depicted as venal, cunning and corrupt, but don’t be fooled. Only the US Constitution comes out smelling like an American Beauty rose – surviving the onslaught of special interest groups and elected officials from both sides of the aisle that are attempting to bend and flex it to suit their own selfish needs.”
This production captured me from the moment the curtain rose on President Smith in his oval office until it fell along with his every hope of re-election. The pace is amazing and the acting superb. It would be hard to single out any cast member of this political farce as besting any other. However a word must be said for the masterful interpretation René Augesen gave to Clarice Bernstein, the lesbian speechwriter just returned from China where she and her partner adopted a Chinese baby. Augesen could have made her character ridiculous and shallow, but she did not. She chose to portray her as a vulnerable human being with ideals she determined to uphold and a firm belief in the goodness and benevolence of the American government. In short, her character was more Mamet than even Mamet could have imagined. She created a masterpiece. The audience might have laughed at her but they loved her for what she tried to become and her determined journey toward her dream, whatever the cost.
NOVEMBER reflects Mamet’s political perspective. “I do not think people are basically good at heart,;” he said. “Indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, or drama.”
In spite of his belief that when pushed to the wall, we all are rotten scheming and self-serving, he decided that the Constitution is amazingly effective in preventing our own total corruption from submerging us. “I found not only that I didn’t trust the current government…but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president…were little different from those of a president whom I revered. “
This play reflects Mamet’s belief that there is a communal well being that does not depend on the goodness of people or on the laws that attempt to force people to be more altruistic than they are, but rather on a symbiotic system of social checks and balances. “It is astonishingly hard to truly laugh about what is going on in the American political arena today,” says ACT’s Artistic Director, Carey Perloff. “But somehow David Mamet makes us do exactly that in his outrageous new farce.”
Indeed we do laugh at the ridiculously exaggerated dilemmas on the ACT stage but we also realize that no matter how horrible our motives and how vile our intentions, the checks and balances of our constitution prevent us from realizing them. There is nothing to fault in this production and it is the superb direction and very dedicated actors that make it the outstanding achievement that it is. There is not a moment in this play that will not hypnotize you. It is a must see on every level.

NOVEMBER continues through November 22, 2009
American Conservatory Theatre
415 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA
Tickets & Information: 415 749 2228

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