Dominion Stage NovemberBy Genie Baskir • Jun 4th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Theater on the Run, Arlington, VA
Through June 16th
90 minutes with intermission
Reviewed June 1st, 2012
Veni, vidi, plotzi. I came, I saw, I plotzed! Okay, so Dominion Stage is not Gaul, but it’s easier to get to. Dominion Stage has diverted from its usual purlieu and set itself up solidly at Theatre on the Run with David Mamet’s November. Imagine your politically incorrect reviewer’s surprise, delight and consternation when she arrived for the show and found it populated with good friends; all of whom were complimenting her and loving on her in ways she had never before imagined. I am beginning to like this reviewing gig.
Q: Just who is a President?
President Charles Smith (Dave Wright) is skulking around the Oval Office in a Nixonian schvitz, dripping with sweat in anticipation of his upcoming non re-election. His administration has been so disastrous that his own party is voting for the other guy and even his Secret Service detail is away from the office with every excuse that still does not include Colombian hookers while the First Lady is plotting to swipe the White House furniture and bring it back home with her. Smith has only two allegiant functionaries left, Clarice Bernstein and Archer Brown (Aimee Meher-Homji and James Senavitis), and Bernstein’s already crafted the President’s ignominious defeat speech. President Smith, convinced that he can still snatch back victory from an unambiguous drubbing, decides that what he needs to win re-election is a $200 million media buy and determines to extort the money from a Thanksgiving turkey executive (Gary Cramer,) in town for the annual Presidential turkey pardon, by threatening to cancel Thanksgiving, or, in the alternative, convincing America to eat pork or tuna instead. He’ll find some flesh food purveyor to give him a lot of money in return for a Thanksgiving endorsement…including a Native American Chief (Michael Nephew) from Nantucket who’ll endorse Smith and Thanksgiving tuna in return for half of the island back to the tribe for a new casino and hotel resort.
The loud, angry and cynical Mamet has become a softy in the mode of Christopher Durang in this very funny take down of American election politics. The show was written about five years ago but is so topical that the play only makes Mamet look smarter now. The approach on same sex marriage is at once both timely and affecting as Bernstein looks to move on with her life after politics to a future with her partner…soon to be wife…Daisy and their new Chinese born daughter. Senavitas and Meher-Homji are the Blondie and Dagwood of community theatre. Senavitas has a comic diffidence about him that registers in all of his roles and Meher-Homji has an approach to her roles that could make even the Evil Queen look like Princess Kate while still being a nasty. Your reviewer was their producer in a Durang Christmas snark fest two years ago and her affection for these two has not waned. No one can play a sniveling schmegegee like Gary Cramer and his portrayal as the Turkey Guy requires an advance Depends warning for the ladies. Cramer’s snivel and belief in his turkeys coupled with the necessity of Presidential hand sniffing makes his final frustrated outburst too funny for words. There are not enough comic Indians and I think we need more. November offers Native Americans the infrequent opportunity to explore and acknowledge another aspect of their humanity which is comedy and the ability to laugh at themselves. Michael Nephew’s appearance as Chief Dwight Grackle is brief, but comically complete, as he defends the pride and history of American Indians and their business skills, while he is trying to assassinate the President in the Oval Office because the Presidential protection detail are at sensitivity training this morning. This show is not a political satire; it is political absurdism at its most comic and histrionic depth.
A: A President is a guy in a suit.
But the show belongs to Dave Wright as the President. He is a bumbling buffoon, vulgar and schlumpy in a bad suit and old shoes. He is the first thrift store President. Whatever compelled the nation to elect him four years prior is lost to memory as he plots to maintain powers he tries to make up as each poor situation looms. His only leverage is his real ability to singlehandedly declare anyone…anyone…an enemy combatant and rendition them secretly to torture in Bulgaria. Wright skulks and prances and schemes while all around him everyone is doing something. If acting is reacting, our actors here are constantly busy. Meher-Homji can do more with a sniffly, schnurfly nosey tissue than any actress around. Props Designer Marcia Carpenter made more with less and let her boxes of tissues carry the heavy load. Set Designer David M. Moretti used the TOTR space to good effect as an Oval Office, but the small budget was reflected mostly in the set dressing and costuming (Patrick M. Doneghy); but these don’t compromise the success of the show. Kevin DeMine’s sound design sets the audience up for the telephone comedy laughs that advance the plot and lighting (Chris Holland) was successful by omission. Nothing in the physical presentation of the show diverted attention from the comedy playing out on the floor and Wright is commanding the action with his sincere and totally believable portrayal of a poor schmuck…There! I said it.
Dominion Stage is giving us big boy talent in a close and intimate setting at an affordable cost. The reward is a splendid evening of laughter and something to laugh about the next day. I know that most of these people are my friends, but I think they truly want a real appraisal of their work because that is what friends are for. I can, in all honesty, declare that Dominion Stage has presented a bold, but very funny and really timely, assessment of electoral politics circa 2012. I will go so far as to offer a Depends alert for those of a certain age. Let’s give November a full 5 Depends on the plotzing scale.
David Mamet wrote November in 2007 and it premiered on Broadway in January 2008 so some of the politics have changed since the play was written, but as President Obama faces an upcoming election it is amazing how many of the issues are still relevant today.
We are seeing Charles at the end of his first term; he is tired and desperate to get reelected. The point that we must not over look is that even though we are seeing him in this desperate state Charles was elected President. There is something likable about him that drew people to vote for him previously. I believe that power, especially the power that is bestowed upon a President, changes the person who is given that power. Depending on their moral fiber and strength of character it will bring out the best or the worst in a person. I had the great fortune to assistant direct Nixon’s Nixon at Round House Theatre and I see parallels between Nixon and Charles. Both, I believe, are good men but the power of the Presidency has driven them to desperate acts to keep that power. Whether you wind up liking Charles or hating Charles at the end of this play think about what you would do if you have tasted such power and what you would do to hold on to that power. I hope you enjoy the show.
- Charles Smith: Dave Wright
- Archer Brown: James Senavitas
- The Representative of the National Association of Turkey Products and Turkey Manufacturers: Gary Cramer
- Clarice Bernstein: Aimee Meher-Homji
- Dwight Grackle: Michael Newphew
- Producers: Patrick M. Doneghy, Robert King
- Director: T.J. Keiter
- Assistant Director: Jessi Keiter
- Stage Manager: Jay Stein
- Fight Choreography: Steve Custer
- Scenic and Painting Design, Set Dressing: David M. Moretti
- Costume Design: Patrick M. Doneghy
- Lighting Design: Chris Holland
- Sound Design: Kevin DeMine
- Properties Design: Marcia Carpenter
- Makeup/Hair Design: Laura Fontaine
- Master Carpenter: Hector Lorenzini
Disclaimer: Dominion Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8150.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.