Volume 20, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Nov. 30 - Dec. 6, 2007

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On Mamet’s ‘November,’ and whether it will open in January


It wasn’t a press conference, exactly, and it wasn’t a preview of the play that had had its first full-cast reading an hour or two earlier. “So what is this?” one ink-stained wretch asked another in the large, crowded rehearsal room. “I guess you could call it a scrum,” came the answer.
The play is “November,” a curiosity-provoking new work by David Mamet, scheduled to open — if stagehands, producers, and theater owners ever come to their senses — January 17 at the Ethel Barrymore. The actors who had just participated in that rehearsal, or reading, now, on this week’s Monday afternoon — four days before playwright Mamet’s 60th birthday — sat around, drained, exhausted, at separate tables, mustering strength to answer questions from the press as flashbulbs flashed in everyone’s face.

David Mamet — husky, ruddy, square-jawed — did not sit at a table. He prowled the room, affably stopping to answer the questions of anyone who buttonholed him. Atop his head was a baseball cap embroidered with a turkey. That should have given a clue, and did.

“Well,” the playwright said when buttonholed in this quarter, “the play takes place in the White House on the day before Election Day. The president is in trouble. He’s been the worst president in history, and now he can’t raise any more campaign money. The American Turkey Association offers him $50,000 if he will pardon a turkey … ”

Seems reasonable, especially from the man who wrote the screenplay of 1998’s ultra-cynical “Wag the Dog.”

At one of the tables sat Nathan Lane, who will be portraying president Charles H. P. Smith. “Yes,” said actor Lane, “a pardoning of turkeys is involved here, yes. There are many things going on in the play” — a press release mentions civil marriages, gambling casinos, lesbians, American Indians, presidential libraries, and campaign contributions — “but turkeys is certainly one.”

No, Nathan Lane has never been in a Mamet play before. “He wanted me to play a woman in ‘Boston Marriage’ ’ — Mamet’s 2002 drama about lesbian arrangements in the Victorian era — “but I wasn’t free. Kate Burton ultimately did it.” Measured pause. “We often are asked for the same role.”

Though Charles H. P. Smith is a conservative “and we assume he’s a Republican,” he is not, says Lane, George W. Bush. “He’s more sort of a gangster. Tony Soprano takes over the White House.”

At another table one found Laurie Metcalfe, who’s to play Smith’s speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein. Is Clarice Bernstein a tough baby? “I’m going to have to decide that during rehearsals.” Of the play as a whole, actress Metcalfe had only two words to say: “Wicked funny.”
And, everybody surely hopes, no turkey.

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