Mamet's 'November' cracks up audience


POSTED: Saturday, December 05, 2009

It is extremely rare in Honolulu for a theater audience to laugh so long and loudly that actors have to wait for the laughter to subside before delivering their next line. That happened several times during the opening night performance of the Actors Group production of “;November”; Nov. 20, and with good reason. Adults and teens who can handle crude language and politically incorrect comedy will find in TAG's staging of the David Mamet satire the comedy of the year.

Veteran stage actor Russell Motter, right, gives a career-best performance as beleaguered presidential incumbent Charles Smith, a chief executive who embodies some of the worst traits of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. With only a few days remaining in his re-election campaign, Smith discovers that his campaign committee has written him off, his campaign treasury is almost empty and no one is interested in funding his presidential library.

Smith notes that one way to raise some cash would be to “;sell a bunch of pardons,”; an obvious reference to Clinton's problematic pardoning of wealthy wrongdoers, but he wants the money in time to revive his campaign and win a second term.





        » Where: The Actors Group Theatre, 1116 Smith St., second floor

» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 13


» Cost: $20 general; $15 seniors; $12 students, military and groups of 10 or more, Fridays through Sundays; $10 for everybody on Thursdays


» Info: 722-6941 or www.taghawaii.net/ordertickets




Asked to publicly “;pardon”; a Thanksgiving turkey in exchange for a $50,000 gratuity, Smith calculates the total revenue at stake for turkey producers and informs their representative that he wants $200,000,000. If he doesn't get it, he'll “;cancel”; Thanksgiving.

The turkey producers balk at Smith's demand. He calls Dwight Grackle, the spokesman for an American Indian group in New England and asks him to go along with a story that the Pilgrims didn't eat turkey at Thanksgiving. Grackle says he'll do it, but only if Smith allows him to build a casino in a federal wildlife refuge.

More complications ensue when Smith's top speech writer returns from China with a newly adopted baby and a bad case of flu, and offers to write him an election-winning speech. All she wants in return is a same-sex wedding for her and her girlfriend during his nationally televised press conference!

MOTTER DOES a superb job with great material. Smith is so morally deficient that he is oblivious to his own ignorance, but he is also a human dynamo. One moment he's explaining to his wife that, no, they can't take any of the White House furniture, a reference to the Clintons' alleged pilfering of government property. Moments later he's in wheeler-dealer mode. Moments after that he is threatening someone with confinement in a secret CIA prison in Bulgaria if they cross him. Motter plays each situation with a light touch and perfect timing.

Neal Milner (Archer Brown) gives a strong supporting performance as the cynical voice of corrupt pragmatism. Patrice Scott (Clarice Bernstein) neatly balances it as the idealistic yet ruthless lesbian speech writer; Scott commands attention in one scene without speaking a word.

D. Tafa'i Silipa (Dwight Grackle) is hilarious as a stereotypical American Indian. Mamet mocks political correctness in several ways with the character, and Silipa develops all of them quite well.

Mamet might not have envisioned the representative of the turkey producers as Filipino, but Lito Capina puts a distinctive ethnic spin on it with good comic results as well.