Theatre Review: “November” at the Phoenix

Cast of November (LtR) - Stephen Hunt, Charles Goad, Diane Timmerman, Tom Beeler, Doug Johnson - Photo by Julie Curry Photography

Last Thursday night my friend Chris and I met downtown at the Phoenix Theatre to see the first post-Broadway production of David Mamet’s “November.”

It is wickedly hilarious: a real antidote for thinking, caring people who have been depressed by politics for too long.  You will probably still be depressed afterwards – this play doesn’t offer many answers – but you will feel much lighter from laughing so hard about it.

Chuck Goad plays Charles Smith, a despicable president who seems to have lost all of his financial backing and therefore all chance for re-election.  Tom Beeler plays his equally soulless “yes man,” Archer Brown.  Diane Timmerman plays his lesbian speechwriter, Clarise Bernstein.  She has a soul, and a backbone, but she has just returned from China – where she and her partner adopted a baby – and she is suffering from the flu.

The only reason she is in the Oval Office, in fact, is because Smith sees a chance to make some big money fast by extorting a representative of America’s turkey farmers.  (The poor, hapless Turkey Guy is played by Stephen Hunt.)  He needs her help in writing a speech to make the deal work.

Meanwhile, an equally calculating Native American chief named Dwight Grackle (Doug Johnson) is outraged by President Smith’s insensitivity.  He arrives at the White House on a war path.

We never actually meet the first lady, but her gossipy, clueless presence on the President’s phone line is huge.  Goad brings her to life through his end of their conversations as strongly as he brings to life President Smith.

You never really care whether or not Smith will find a way to get re-elected.  What you hold your breath for is whatever outrageously funny thing he will say next.  David Mamet’s writing is fearlessly offensive, fearlessly blistering, and…well, actually, really spot on sometimes.

I mean, who wouldn’t rather have an organization that runs like a Swiss watch rather than a cluster-f*ck?

But it is Goad, with the help of Bryan Fonseca’s direction, who brings that writing to life, and fleshes out the spaces between the words with nonverbal richness, delivering it all with pinpoint control and excellent comic timing.

Oh, my, is he funny.

The Oval Office set, designed by James Gross, lit by Bryan Fonseca, and constructed by the Impact Group, Justin Kidwell, and James Gross, is a “wow!” set.  Except that it is smaller, it looks as rich and impressive as the real Oval Office (or at least what I have seen of it in photos), right down to the Presidential Seal in the rug on the floor.

Lindsey Lyddan is the costumer. I especially loved President Smith’s luxurious silk robe that he wears like a smoking jacket; Bernstein’s beautiful, gathered wedding gown over running shoes; and Dwight Grackle’s five o’clock shadow and beaded (quilled? bone-worked?) vest.

The soft yet relentless “ding” of the Presidential phone is funny all by itself.  Justin Kidwell is the technical director and is in charge of properties.  Dani Norberg is the light and sound operator.  Carlos Bustamante is the stage manager. 

I saw my friend Chris a couple days later and we both laughed again, remembering this show.  We also both realized that the subplot about gay marriage had stayed with us more than we thought it would while we were watching the show.   

We also both loved that Phoenix Managing Director Sharon Gamble’s curtain talk included urging everyone who has not already registered to vote to do so.  Voter registration information pamphlets and forms are available in the Phoenix lobby.  Remember: you have to register to vote before October 6, 2008 if you want to vote on General Election day on November 4, 2008.  According to the 2008 Indiana Voter Information Guide, if you would like to check your voter registration or the location of your polling place, please visit www.IndianaVoters.com or call the Hoosier Voter Hotline at 1-866-IN-1-VOTE (866-461-8683.)

“November” continues at the Phoenix through October 11, 2008.  There are no Sunday performances this season.  Every Thursday night is “cheap seat night,” thanks to Duke Energy.  All tickets on Thursday nights are only $15.  Thursday night performances of “November” start at 7:00 pm (NOT 7:30, which is what I usually think until someone reminds me.) 

Also very awesome and new this year (I just noticed this on the Phoenix website today!) are student season passes.  If you show your student I.D., you may buy a pass for $50 that gives you (just you) “unlimited attendance to all productions in the 2008-2009 season.”

For more information and to make a reservation, please call 317-635-PLAY (7529).

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

8 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “November” at the Phoenix”

  1. I was shocked this didn’t get more Tony buzz during it’s year. I read a review about it on its Broadway run with Nathan Lane as the president and I knew I wanted to see it. Your review just makes me more anxious to see it.

Leave a Reply