In a battleground state like Nevada, staging a political play in 2012 about an incumbent president making a last-ditch effort to sway votes could prove risky. But by choosing a David Mamet comedy focused more on cheap jabs at political corruption than specific platform politics, the Poor Richard’s Players ensemble plays it safe, executing an entertaining, laugh-out-loud performance of November that pokes equal fun at both political parties.
In the Oval Office — that is, a sparsely decorated Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio version of it, circled by audience chairs so close you might get splashed by the president’s sweat or sneezed on by his sickly speechwriter — President Charles P. Smith (Benjamin Loewy) is nearly ready to throw in the towel as the unpopular incumbent, showing poll numbers “lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol.” His funds are depleted, and his staff is too busy adopting Chinese babies and working on his concession speech to focus on the re-election campaign.
The play’s January 2008 debut likely led actors to give the lead role a Texas twang in past productions, which Loewy wisely avoids in his portrayal. He’s a hot-headed bully, not above strong-arming a turkey breeder into paying extra for the annual Thanksgiving pardon, bribing his speechwriter with promises to perform a lesbian wedding ceremony for her and her partner, and threatening anyone who disagrees with him that he’ll send them away on the next “piggy plane” to Bulgaria.
Echoes of past presidents abound, but it’s not a one-note Bush-bashing, which may have dated the piece more than the bird flu jokes. The aim of this satire is more universal.
Loewy reaches beyond canned anger to display the desperate frustration of being stuck in his role with little chance of securing a positive legacy, let alone re-election. Cory Goble, as the president’s chief of staff, scores laughs with his timing and physical agility. Kirstin Maki, whose stage sneezing alone should win awards for realism, serves well as the play’s progressive idealist, carefully biding her time until she can win over the president by appealing to what few ethics he might still possess.
In some ways, the circular staging serves the chaotic emotion of the scenes perfectly, as characters rush between rapid-fire dialogue to grab at phones ringing from opposite ends of the set. But despite Eve Smith’s staging and director Lysander Abadia’s attempts to keep the actors moving, the space’s physical limitations sometimes results in blocked views and missed moments for the audience.
As Mamet plays go, this one is uncharacteristically tame. But the cast and direction make the show enjoyable — regardless of your political persuasion.
NOVEMBER Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., through Aug. 26; Las Vegas Little Theatre Studio Theatre, 3890 Schiff Drive, 362-7996, $11-$12