The 47% Solution: “November” @ Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre

And now for more political news, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre wades into the fray with a timely, hilarious production of “November”, running through September 23 in its intimate downstairs CitySpace Theatre. Imagine combining the most controversial aspects of Herman Cain, Donald Trump and Teddy Kennedy into one relentlessly swashbuckling  “flimflammer-in chief”.  President Charles Smith dominates every conversation with the unmitigated chicanery of privileged power and relishes dropping F-bombs like Ronald Reagan savored jellybeans. Playwright David Mamet assaults the stage genre of Comedy of (Bad) Manners with customary gusto, setting his 2007 play “November” in the choking final gasps of exceedingly unpopular fictitious US President Smith’s first term in office. He delivers a lethal karate chop to Washington’s culture of corruption and political correctness while amusing his audience with hilarious, fast-paced repartee.

“November “ debuted on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 17, 2008, featuring master comic Nathan Lane as President Smith. Oklahoma City Repertory Company brings the challenging, salty work (rated very “R”) to vibrant life, directed with punchy, tongue-in-cheek esprit by Founding Artistic Director Donald Jordan. Topnotch regional African-American actor Marcellus Hankins imbues his President Smith with devil-may-care hubris and deftly voiced skills in double-speak. A relentlessly high-energy ruffian, President Smith may have poll numbers “lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol”; but Hankins’ deliberately rapacious twinkle in the eye, masterful, well-modulated delivery and non-flagging enthusiasm delights the audience, in spite of it.

Marcellus Hankins as eminently corrupt US President Charles Smith

This almost Moliere-styled comic genre does not flow as deftly from Mamet’s pen as do his other works, but the intently sharp directing focus and keen ensemble help meld the play’s somewhat unwieldy arc into a smooth, entertaining production. Steve Emerson makes a properly inscrutable, reptilian “right hand thug” and straight foil for the beleaguered Prez. Matthew E. Ellis excels as the Turkey Lobby’s spokesperson, all fawning feathers until money enters the picture and his birds start dying off. Emmy Award-winning Shakespearean master Jon Haque gets to explore an unusual repertoire as the opportunistic Dwight Grackle, Chief of the First Nation MicMac tribe. Most irreverent fun on stage finds inspiration with President Smith’s speechwriter, a lesbian feminist with a newly adopted baby from China, a flair for lofty language and a full-blown paradigm shifting agenda of her own. Kris Schinske, unforgettable in CityRep’s dramatic production of “August: Osage County”, displays her fine mettle as a comic actress in the role. Lighting and sound (Kathrine Mitchell and Steve Emerson) and set design (Amanda Foust and Donald Jordan) bring the audience deep into the West Wing’s “inner sanctum”, with believable costumes by Aaron Patrick Turner (particularly on Chief Grackle). In Act III, President Smith remarks, “Part of the burden of command is you have to sell someone out for the common good.” That’s playwright Mamet commenting about the ongoing state of corruption in US politics; just tune in to any media outlet to watch it unfold. With “November”, it’s great fun to laugh at its utter ridiculousness.

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre produces bold work of artistic merit, and it’s an easy drive up I35 from the N. Texas region. Next up: Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart”, opening November 9, directed by Dallas’ Rene Moreno. 405.848.3761

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