Abraham Lincoln was the first president to spare a turkey’s life at Thanksgiving. Not everyone followed suit. In 1947, Harry Truman was gifted a turkey by the National Turkey Federation, which ended up on his dinner table. Most presidents, however, adopted the tradition—Kennedy, Reagan, even Nixon—pardoning one or two lucky turkeys as a symbolic gesture.
From that silly gesture comes November, David Mamet’s political satire—performed here by Jane, A Theater Company—skewering electoral campaigns and the naive beliefs about democracy.
President Charles H.P. Smith (Brian Harcourt) is whining his way through his last few days in office, assuming his reelection is already lost given poll numbers “lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol.” A meeting with a representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey Products Manufacturers to arrange the annual pardoning ceremony becomes an opportunity to extort funding for his failing campaign.
Because this is a Mamet play, the real star is the dialogue. The cast handles it admirably, batting conversations back and forth like high-speed pingpong and spewing obscenity-laced rants to comic effect. Harcourt’s President Smith is such a helpless buffoon that even his vitriolic tirades against the Chinese and his own lesbian speechwriter (Kim Bogus) come across hilariously endearing. According to Mamet, Smith isn’t intended to represent an actual president, but his Texas drawl, penchant for threats of indefinite detention overseas, and his complete fucking-over of the country feel familiar.
As the play
culminates in a farcical fiasco of gay marriage, exploding turkeys and a
threat to expose Thanksgiving as an ancient orgy ceremony, Mamet’s
feelings on the political process become clear. Everyone, even the most
altruistic among us, wants something that can be bartered for. As Smith
explains, “To trade this for that separates us from the lower life
forms, like the large apes or the Scandinavians.” Seeing the giblets of
the political process may kill your appetite for democracy, but at least
November makes you laugh.
SEE IT: November is at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., 816-5444, jane-a-theater-company.org. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 pm Sundays through July 21. $20.