“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton 1887
In playwright David Mamet’s view, as presented in his 2008 political satire November, Lord Acton’s dictum definitely still applies.
A week before election time, the polls show that current U.S. president Charles Smith is going to be a one-term failure. In a desperate attempt to hang on for a second term, he tries every legitimate and illegitimate way he can find to squeeze funds for a last-minute advertising campaign to boost his ratings.
In the SevenThirty Productions presentation of November, slickly directed by John P. Kelly, Todd Duckworth is simply terrific as the sinking president. Maintaining a knife-edge balance between humour and pathos, he is always believable, despite the excesses that Mamet has injected into his character.
Anyone who cares about about good theatre should keep an eye on what’s happening at the Gladstone, a venue with a growing track record for eclectic, adventurous programming and generally high production values. Unfortunately, it tends to be overshadowed by the more prominent presences of the National Arts Centre and GCTC — and this could be dangerous to the Gladstone’s long-term financial health. It’s a place that merits our support.
> All of which is a preamble to saying that this Gladstone Avenue venue is currently housing SevenThirty Productions’ outrageously funny take on David Mamet’s scathing political satire, November, and that it deserves to be playing to sell-out houses. It’s highlighted by Todd Duckworth’s hilarious performance as the dim-witted president of the United States — and if this bumbling narcissist reminds you of George W. Bush, it’s not likely that either Duckworth or director John P. Kelly will quarrel with you.
> Mamet’s play unashamedly embraces cartoonry and blunt-edged caricature in the course of his zany account of one chaotic day in an Oval Office neatly re-imagined for the Gladstone stage by set designer David Magladry. It’s a day which sees the foul-mouthed and self-absorbed President Charles Smith working himself into a lather over the probability of being ousted from office by the electorate. He’s further obsessed over the probability of not having the money to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by setting up a presidential library in his name. Smith revealingly keeps mispronouncing this institution of his dreams, referring to it as his “libary” — and that’s scarcely surprising given that this whining cretin doesn’t appear to have ever read a book in his life.
November: a nasty poltical satire that has director J.P. Kelly going for the jugular to produce excellent performances by all!
Steve Martin as Chief of Staff Archer Brown. Photo by David Pasho
This vicious satire of American politics by the author of Oleanna and Speed-the- Plow is one of the high points of the local English language season. It certainly came at the proper time, following as it did on the heels of Obama’s re-election after a very tight race. The play keeps throwing out references to 2008, the year Obama beat George W. Bush at the polls and it seems clear that Mamet felt compelled to vent his anger, his disgust, his frustration and his total disdain for this man who had already spent too many years as the leader of the American people. The portrait is devastating.
Set in David Magladry’s beautiful little box set, this is a tightly constructed play by one of the masters of contemporary American drama. It takes place in President Charles Smith’s Oval office during the election campaign. His rantings about his failing popularity, the plummeting polls and his unwillingness to accept the inevitable, are highlighted by his wife’s constant phone calls (Mamet loves phone calls that interrupt at the worst moments). He obsesses about leaving a “liberry” full of books about his own legacy as President and is infuriated by the absence of his speech writer Bernstein, whom he drags back from her holidays and drills when he needs her to rewrite American history in order to take vengeance on the Turkey breeders of America so that no one will buy their birds. All the while the war in Iraq is raging and Iranian (?) diplomats are trying desperately to get him on the phone. His perverted vision of history is certainly not for the faint of heart but it confirms everything else we learn about this abominable creature.