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“November” preview by Robert W. McDowell

IRA DAVID WOOD III STARS AS EMBATTLED PRESIDENT CHARLES H.P. SMITH IN N.C. PREMIERE OF DAVID MAMET’S OVAL OFFICE FARCE “NOVEMBER”

See Ira David Wood III as the President of the United States

On June 11-13 and 17-20, Theatre in the Park will present the North Carolina premiere of 62-year-old Chicago playwright David Mamet’s Oval Office farce NOVEMBER in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in west Raleigh, NC. TIP’s 62-year-old executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III will star as embattled President Charles H.P. Smith, who is running for reelection and really gets his knickers in a twist a few days before Election Day. Wood will also direct the show, which co-stars Jesse R. Gephart as presidential advisor Archer Brown, Cameron West as Smith’s speechwriter Clarice Bernstein, Scotty Cherryholmes as Native American Chief Dwight Grackle, and Larry Evans as A Representative of the National Association of Turkey Manufacturers.

 

According to David Wood’s director’s notes:

  • NOVEMBER has been an exciting but rather daunting project, to say the least. There are the usual challenges that come part-and-parcel with doing anything by David Mamet … the clipped dialogue, the rapid pacing, the profanity, and the fact that your character might not be particularly likable.
  • Charles Smith, the character I play in NOVEMBER, happens to be the President of the United States of America … and he’s just totally corrupt. He’ll do anything for a buck!
  • The play is a satire. The character is a stitch. I just don’t think I’d like him very much if he were the real President … my President. Within the context of the play, however, he’s hysterical … and perhaps finally … even likable at times. I do hope so.

“But then, that’s the wonderful thing Mamet has accomplished in the crafting of the play. We’re being allowed to see what lies behind the President’s public persona … what really goes on in the Oval Office behind closed doors … and that knowledge provides the audience with a certain voyeuristic fascination regarding the storyline. You’re allowed to be a fly on the wall … very much like listening to the Richard Nixon White House tapes for the first time. A bit of a shock to say the least. But didn’t those tapes reveal what we’ve always suspected? Our leaders are flesh and blood … foibles and all!”

NOVEMBER made its Broadway debut, directed by Joe Mantello, on Jan. 17, 2008 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where it played for 205 performances before closing on July 13, 2008. The show starred Nathan Lane as beleaguered President Smith, Dylan Baker as Archer, Laurie Metcalf as Clarice, Michael Nichols as Chief Dwight, and Ethan Phillips as Turkey Man. NOVEMBER received a 2008 Tony Award® nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play (Laurie Metcalf).

In his director’s notes, David Wood asks:

Do we love the United States? You bet we do. Do we TRUST the government of the United States? Are you kiddin’? Not since THE WARREN REPORT … at least in my humble opinion.

At the same time, 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’s in his view unutterably naive. 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. That the only country that’s not divided is totalitarian.’

Mamet goes on to elaborate: ‘Somebody even more pedantic than I might say that that’s the whole question of drama: How does one make a moral decision? And further, that a moral decision is not the choice between wrong and right — that’s easy — but between two wrongs.’

As the curtain rises on NOVEMBER, the President of the United States, Charles H. P. Smith (David Wood), who is on the eve of losing his bid for a second term (his numbers are ‘lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol’), asks his trusted aide Archer Brown (Jess Gephart) what has happened to his public support. ‘Why, why?’ he moans. ‘You’ve screwed the country into a cocked hat,’ Archer replies.

Add to this mix —

  •  The President’s faithful speechwriter (Cameron West), a lesbian who wants to be married to her partner in the Oval Office,
  • A representative of National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products Manufacturers who wants the President to pardon two Thanksgiving turkeys,
  • as well as the hulking chief of the Native American Micmac Nation (Scotty Cherryholmes), who comes to the White House bent on bloody revenge and you know it’s time to fasten your seatbelts because Mamet is taking us on a truly hysterical ride. And when Mamet writes satire, no one is spared!

Given the often volatile political climate these days, I thought NOVEMBER might give everyone an opportunity to come together in a bit of unifying laughter. We don’t know if the character I play is a Democrat or a Republican … and it really doesn’t matter. (My necktie is even RED and BLUE!) We’re just happy to sit back and enjoy his desperate attempt to simply make it through to the curtain call before being
impeached!

Steve Larson and Jeff Nugent have done a magnificent job of recreating the Oval Office on Theatre in the Park‘s stage. It’s been so humbling to simply walk into the set … because you do feel that you are somehow on sacred ground. To sit behind the President’s desk for the first time was really something of a thrill.

Shawn Stewart Larson has created — as usual — wonderful costumes for us all to work in … even down to the small Presidential lapel pins!

 Will Mikes has provided a great deal of gentle guidance as the production’s assistant director, and Erin West is doing a brilliant job as stage manager (She Who Must Be Obeyed!).

With such a fine cast and production team, it’s been a great deal easier to tackle this rather ambitious project. (I’d like to say more here, but I need to get back to memorizing a ton of lines!)

The good news is it’s a spectacular country,’ Mamet explains in a better conclusion than I could possibly provide. ‘We’ve been around for 230 years in spite of human nature, because that’s what the Constitution is all about. It’s saying, of course everyone’s gonna try and take control. Of course they’re gonna subvert every law that’s supposed to keep them in line. Of course the president is gonna want to be imperial, of course Congress is gonna want to become obstructionist, of course the judges are gonna be activist. Duh. They figured this out in 1787 and
drew up a few sheets of paper that have kept the country in line. It’s a great place to live.'”

Theatre in the Park presents NOVEMBER, starring Ira David Wood III, at 8 p.m. June 11and 12, 3 p.m. June 13, 8 p.m. June 17-19, and 3 p.m. June 20 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

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by Robert W. McDowell
Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.E-mail RobertM748[at]aol.com to start your FREE subscription to this weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter.

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