Regardless of what side of the political spectrum on which you stand, it’s been an absurd year in politics.
And Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) has tapped into the current state of American politics to bring its audience a timely play that ensures laughs, catharsis and possibly an uncomfortable moment or two: David Mamet’s “November.” The tongue-in-cheek play opened last week. Showtimes are scheduled for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Oct. 22.
“About a year ago, we knew we wanted to do a political play,” Director Deana Duncan said. “We did our homework and chose about 10 plays we would consider, but this wasn’t our top pick. But we knew about four months ago that it matched the current political landscape.”
The play follows what WICA’s website calls “the most inept, corrupt and unpopular buffoon to hold office” — President Charles Smith — in the days leading up to the election, as he ponders his chances of winning another four years in charge. His poll numbers are “lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol,” according to the president’s chief of staff, and he’s in search of a big move that would sway the votes and establish some sort of legacy. What he decides should be his legacy is just as ridiculous as the character himself.
The over-the-top and expletive-laden take on American politics is by playwright and social critic Mamet, who steers away from pinpointing a particular party to harp on, and instead goes after inept politicians themselves.
“Mamet’s favorite word begins with an ‘F’ and it’s not ‘fiscal,’ ” according to a review from Variety Magazine.
Although the play was written in 2008, Duncan said the play is relevant to the modern political landscape. Smith is an abrasive character who squabbles with whomever calls his desk phone, and it soon becomes clear he is out of his depth. His chief of staff attempts to walk him through phone calls to make sure he doesn’t make a misstep and offend anybody, but it almost always ends with a palm to the face. His unpopularity and mud-slinging tendencies are similar to both presidential candidates, and the cast taps into that dynamic throughout the play.
Duncan says funny as the play may be, it also raises important issues and offers viewers food for thought.
“I think Mamet is saying it’s important who we elect, and if we vote someone into office who is a bigot, racist or under-qualified, that is what this is going to look like,” Duncan said. “He does it in a funny way, but Mamet is serious.”
David Mayer, who plays the role of Smith, has brought his own ideas into the role. Duncan said the majority of the character comes from Mayer’s own input, and added he brought a personal background story.
“David had so many great ideas and I felt all we needed to do is give him the space to run,” Duncan said.
Mayer has created a character that is more than comic relief; he says he’s developed a role that melds the emotional concepts such as redemption with the outrageous and humorous side of the character. And although the current presidential candidates might be considered by some as models for his role, Mayer says there isn’t a particular real-life inspiration to the character.
“I wouldn’t say I specifically looked to this person or that as inspiration, but would try to imagine what it takes to be in that office, to feel entitled and then be unprepared, and yet having learned things over my first term in order to unapologetically get the sausage made,” Mayer said. “My character does this all while counting wholeheartedly on my idealist speech-writer and my pragmatist chief of staff and lawyer.”
Duncan says the play is already starting conversations among audience members as to whom they will be voting for this coming general election. She wanted to push boundaries with the play and start those conversations, which she said can be difficult.
“To put it on stage allows the community to have a conversation around really difficult things,” Duncan said.
“November” is a slap-in-the-face. It doesn’t hold back or try to be politically correct. Mayer says it was important to deliver his character’s offensive speech sincerely in order to drive home the theme of potential chaos in the White House depending on who is sworn into office. The play will make viewers think about whom to vote for, but they’ll have to get past the laughs first.