Group: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: October 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24
Tickets: $20-$25; contact 1-800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com
Story: It’s a precarious time for Charles Smith. He’s the incumbent president of the United States, but it looks like his first term will also be his last. Everyone else thinks so, anyway. His campaign treasurer claims there isn’t enough money to buy any more TV ads, his wife is thinking about redecorating their old home, his chief of staff is planning Charles’ exit strategy with designs on making as much money for his boss as possible, and his chief speechwriter has penned his resignation address.
Compounding his problem is the fact that Chuckie is as dumb as a box of rocks, even though he was elected to the highest office in the land (hmmm). While blustering and blundering through the final week before the election, Charles is told he needs to issue a presidential pardon to a pair of turkeys, a traditional occurrence tied in with the nation’s big holiday of gratitude.
Eureka! Charles devises a scheme to pressure a nameless representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers to make an absurdly large contribution to his campaign, fueled by his own machinations for storming from behind to win the election. That’s before his speechwriter demands that Smith marry her and her lesbian partner in exchange for her help in his charade, and before he insults a Native American leader with outrageous insults, both of which bode badly for re-election.
Highlights: “November” ushers in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s season of “Angels and Demons” with a fitfully funny look at the ridiculous twists and turns of politics. The three-act comedy by prolific playwright David Mamet premiered on Broadway in 2008 and features Mamet’s trademark ability to create manic characters and improbable plots that coalesce into adventurous and entertaining theater. In the STLAS production, director Bobby Miller survives an interminable first act to regale the audience with a quirky and spastic interpretation of this silly but successful work by his favorite playwright.
Other Info: Mamet is a master of testosterone-laced dialogue (“Glengarry Glen Ross,” “American Buffalo”) and “November” is no exception to his ear for streetwise talk. He can also be over the top, and the first act in this comedy is satire with a sledgehammer as Charles’ rants and lunatic thinking go on ad nauseam and way past the point of cleverness. Alan Knoll as Charles and director Miller need to seriously tone it down a notch or seven and excise 10 minutes or so of repetitive dialogue and meandering situations to tighten and enhance their effort.
That said, “November” picks up considerable steam in its latter two acts and delivers ridiculously funny knockout punches along the way. Miller elicits an hilarious performance by Chopper Leifheit as the overly serious and consistently bewildered turkey representative. Dressed impeccably with a goofy bow tie courtesy of costume designer Bonnie Kruger, Leifheit’s comic timing and droll delivery cap the evening’s entertainment.
Knoll overcomes his propensity for endless exaggeration in the first act (an exuberance that has Miller and Mamet as willing co-conspirators) with a much more polished and engaging interpretation in the second and third scenes, where his charming and natural ability to hone amusing characters is ably demonstrated.
Michelle Hand demonstrates a nice comic touch as the sneezing speechwriter with her own political agenda, oddly working on an impromptu script for Charles at a typewriter in 2008, a bit of a curiosity in this computer age contributed by props designer Peggy Knock. John Krewson is delightful from start to finish as Charles’ calculating and efficient, as well as sartorially splendored, chief of staff, loyally looking out for his boss’ best interests even in the face of overwhelming adversity. Alan McClintock contributes an amusing if over-stretched bit as outraged Chief Dwight Grackle, sporting some throwback Indian paint courtesy of makeup designer Kathy Ferrara.
Patrick Huber’s set and lighting design showcase a rather pedestrian Oval Office, and Miller’s sound design has fun with the Americana theme, weaving recordings by Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty and others.
“November” is an uneven but ultimately engaging production of high-camp politics and free-wheeling comedy for political activists and comedy aficionados alike, and a primary contributor to STLAS’ fourth season.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.