A TURKEY IN THE OVAL OFFICE
Imagine a turkey in the Oval Office. It's called November, which recently opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Starring Nathan Lane who looks presidential, even sounds presidential if you recall Nixon's obscenity-laced Watergate tapes. And, of course, being Nathan Lane he's funny too! An everyman president called Charlie Smith with a pinched smile, a trapped restless manner, and an unsettling splutter when excited, which is almost all the time. How come, Charlie? Maybe it's because the news he gets about his chances of winning a second term, or having a longed-for presidential library, or even just putting together enough cash to live on when he's finally booted out of the White House, arrives like telegrams from the poor house. No wonder he's constantly telling these desperate non-stop old and musty gags that smell of mothballs. But Lane tells them well, and you almost feel sorry for the poor angst-ridden bastard stuck in the OO for 1 hour and 35 minutes with these awful one-liners.
The writer is David Mamet. So you might think perhaps that the gray electric vision of the author of American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross had changed over the years to a still darker, more intense Becket hue. No such luck, alas! There's nothing like an idea rattling around in this president's head. But what he does have are schemes galore. Threatening the National Association of Turkey By-Products to turn America against turkey, he refuses to pardon the annual Thanksgiving bird unless the money is right. "Let them eat pork," he rants. "Let them eat cod!" The man might even stoop to broccoli for enough giblets. Unutterably corrupt, he deplores his job as providing "too little opportunity for theft." He's a prez for whom everything has a price, whether it's casino licenses for Native Americans or a pork industry "piggy plane" for deporting aliens.
Fact is there are no characters in November, only stick figures that no one gives a damn about but are easy to laugh at. President Smith tells us that he can't even remember the last country he invaded, and the audience howls. Satire is made of sterner stuff. All sitcoms need is a laugh track. When Nathan Lane first agreed to play the part, Mamet told him , "I can't wait to get into the rehearsal room--I've got a million ideas for gags." But David Mamet is no Mel Brooks. (Any more than Nathan Lane is Jack Kennedy.) So what? He used to have language--though you'd never know it from this turkey. Besides there's more to comedy than The Producers, more to drama than "entertainment," and much more to Mamet than November.