After the teeth-gritting obnoxiousness of Oleanna (the dialogue, I mean, not the sexual politics of it) and the total forgettability of Boston Marriage, I had pretty much given up on later Mamet. But this Vortex production of his 2008 political comedy made me realize that there's still a lot of juice left in his creative batteries.
November seems to be a fantasy of what the last few days before the 2004 election would have looked like in the Oval Office if it had been obvious that George W. Bush was going to lose to John Kerry. It's a fantasy because, of course, we know that never happened. The President in November is not overtly the second Bush, but he is a guy who can't put together a single paragraph without his speechwriter doing it for him.
The situations our fictional president finds himself inwhether he will manage to extort millions from the turkey lobby, whether he will preside over the marriage of his lesbian speechwriter, whether he will survive an attack from a furious Native American chiefare not really that important. What's important here is the dialogue, the gags, and the comic timing.
In the latter, this cast and director excel. John Hardman, one of Albuquerque's best comic actors, obviously knows how to direct comedy too. The timing is whip-crack all around, the actors barely having the opportunity to inhale. Hail to the chief among them, Matt Heath as the president. I've liked every performance I've ever seen by Matt, but this one goes above and beyond. It's over over the top, and yet he's believable every second that he's on stage (which is all the time), and that's exactly what this role needs. I hope he survives the run without seeing any paramedics hovering over him.
John Wylie as the president's cynical advisor is a good wise-cracker and his exchanges with Matt are like a verbal pas de deux set to a presto tempo. Georgette Reeves as the put-upon speechwriter is supposed to have a bad cold or maybe avian flu, and she looks it; it's a good performance, and I like the fact that she uses a manual typewriter (maybe it's not supposed to be 2004 after all). Harrison Sim as the Turkey Guy (that's how he's listed in the cast) also is good as the increasingly exasperated lobbyist who is just trying to get the president to pardon two of his turkeysone of the rituals of every November.
Although Matt Heath is the star here, he shares the stage with another luminary: the dialogue. Mamet here is an equal-opportunity offender, so if you can't stand political incorrectness, be forewarned. He also has a genius for the word "fuck" in all its various uses, so if you have delicate ears, again be forewarned.
I find the dialogue in November, even though manic, more natural sounding than what is in other Mamet works. And a hell of a lot funnier. Even though we currently have a president who is nothing at all like the one in this play, this is still a great show to see during the run-up to the 2012 election. If for no other reason, see it for Matt Heath's tour-de-force. It'll be a lot of election cycles before you see anything like it on stage again.
November by David Mamet is playing at the Vortex Theatre through November 4, 2012. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at vortexabq.org or (505) 247-8600.