By JERRY TALLMER
It wasnt a press conference, exactly, and it wasnt 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 weeks Monday afternoon four days before playwright Mamets 60th birthday sat around, drained, exhausted, at separate tables, mustering strength to answer questions from the press as flashbulbs flashed in everyones 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. Hes been the worst president in history, and now he cant 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 1998s 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 Mamets 2002 drama about lesbian arrangements in the Victorian era but I wasnt 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 hes a Republican, he is not, says Lane, George W. Bush. Hes more sort of a gangster. Tony Soprano takes over the White House.
At another table one found Laurie Metcalfe, whos to play Smiths speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein. Is Clarice Bernstein a tough baby? Im 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.