The Gladstone Theatre has, in my estimation, been having a pretty kick-ass season start thus far. John P.Kelly got things underway with the dandy two-hander STONES IN HIS POCKETS, followed by Plosive‘s killer version of Danny Mac’s HOW IT WORKS (that I came back to catch a second time, it were so sweet). So I was both nervous and expectant about their third show, another one from John P and Seven Thirty Productions. He’s been having himself a busy, and very successful year, having followed up STONES with the damn-near sold-out run of FLY ME TO THE MOON at the GCTC. I dearly loved MOON, and had my fingers crossed that JPK would make it three for three great shows in a row. After trying and failing to nab a date for the evening (YOUR LOSS, internet!), I sped on over to the Gladstone and prepared myself for the best.
The show that had me in such a state was David Mamet’s NOVEMBER, a political satire/farce set in what look to be the dying days of a lame duck US president, Charles Smith (Todd Duckworth). Smith faces an almost certain loss in his attempt at re-election, an outcome attributable to the simple fact that everyone hates him, as his unflappable chief of staff Archer Brown (Steve Martin) has absolutely no problem letting him know. But Charlie Smith isn’t a quitter (he isn’t a LOT of things), and he spends most of the play in a desperate last-minute bid to eke victory from the jaws of defeat. Problem being, he’s such a stupid, short-sighted, foul-mouthed bigot that he keep shooting himself quite hilariously in the foot. Between his attempts to extort cash out of a national Turkey rep (Tom Charlebois), threaten a native leader (Bruce Sinclair) into backing one of his crazier schemes, and forcing his sickly lesbian scriptwriter Bernstein (Chantal Plante) to write him a career-saving speech, there are few President Smith doesn’t manage to offend, demean or insult. And it couldn’t be more of a giddy, guilty thrill to watch.
A lot of hay has been made out of how offensive and politically incorrect NOVEMBER is, to which I can only say, who gives a shit? It’s FUCKING FUNNY! Oh my silly imaginary God is it funny! Todd Duckworth may be giving a career-defining performance (he said, having seen Todd Duckworth in, like, two things EVER) as the moping, dimwitted President Smith. And I’ll gladly trade our hometown Steve Martin for that glory-days, family comedy sellout in Hollywood any day of the week as long as he keeps knocking it out like he does in a gloriously straightfaced performance as CoS Archer. Ottawa Little Theatre heroine Chantal Plante is a serious delight as uptight writer Bernstein, proudly defending her ‘liberal agenda’ even as she proudly serves a man who couldn’t care less for it. Tom Charlebois makes a marvellous southern shill as the ‘Turkey Man’, and Bruce Sinclair as Chief Dwight Grackle makes maybe the best unexpected entrance in Ottawa theatre history.
Mamet’s script here is a little less Mamet-ish than, say, OLEANNA, but is still chock full of his bleak, no heroes allowed worldview…but with a laugh track this time. It’s almost funnier when you think that a President that acted like that would, sadly, probably have no trouble at ALL getting re-elected. Almost, but not quite (but then, that’s where Mamet GETS ya). Kudos to the sweet Oval Office set by designer David Magladry, doing double duty on the lights as well. A helluva show, as good a bang for your theatre buck as you could hope to get. I’m already telling all sorts of my non-theatre acquaintances that this is the show they HAVE to see. And myself? I saw the last Gladstone show twice, and I have a feeling I’ll be back for a second term (sorry Rich Hemphill, I’m stealing your line!) of this show as well. Hail to the Chief already! Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)