Friday, January 18, 2008

Did Critics' Ballots Favor November?

Did Critics' Ballots Favor November?

Last evening, David Mamet's world premiere play November opened at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and this morning the election re, er, critics' reviews are in.

Helmed by Joe Mantello, November is a presidential election year comedy starring Nathan Lane, Dylan Baker, Laurie Metcalf, Ethan Phillips and Michael Nichols. Like a nation that seems inexorably split down the middle, so were the critics in their reviews.

Offering that "Mamet here is better than ever," Bloomberg's John Simon voted early and often for the show: "A comedy and its production score a joint bull's-eye, and for a couple of hours on Broadway, all is well with the world. Nathan Lane, a great comic actor, gets the part he needed to prove himself the greatest....Lane is a one-man laugh riot as he tries to wangle or bribe, bully or blackmail his way into re-election....Joe Mantello, the director, emerges yet again as equal master of pinpoint detail and overarching orchestration."

Concluding that it's "empty-headed political fun," Clive Barnes of New York Post offers two and a half stars: "With a masterly sleight of hand, Nathan Lane turns slightness into giddy fun in November, David Mamet's impeccably politically incorrect tale of a US president in pollster hell. Not that all the credit belongs to Broadway's current maestro of the aggressive put-down and the aggrieved double-take. Much the same virtuosity is shown by a suavely buttoned-down Dylan Baker and a hysterically buttoned-up Laurie Metcalf, all three directed with metronomic brilliance by Joe Mantello."

Proclaiming November a "manically funny new comedy," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara offers his "yes" vote: "Lane is anything but bland as he ricochets around the room, spewing obscenities, mostly of the f-word variety....the cleverly jumbled plot ... demands comic actors at the top of their form. The cast, which also includes Laurie Metcalf and Dylan Baker, deftly navigates its way through the thicket of laughs, nailing every one."

Labeling it "sneaky and scabrously funny," Eric Grode of The New York Sun is mostly positive: "As the Gandhi joke ... demonstrates, the plotting often gives way to a Borscht Belt style that comes a bit too easily to the author. But if anyone on Broadway can pull off this sort of material, it's Mr. Lane. Dangling offers and hurling threats like a Tammany Hall alderman, Smith stands to leave the Oval Office (replicated with witty fidelity by set designer Scott Pask) with either his head held high or his pockets full. Mr. Lane's patented blend of lovable loutishness keeps the audience guessing -- and laughing, as he dispenses profane nuggets of Mametian wisdom with pedantic cluelessness."

Characterizing Mamet's latest as a "glib and jaunty new play," The New York Times' Ben Brantley votes no: "Despite the thick swarm of obscenities that are de rigueur in a Mamet play, there’s nothing remotely shocking about November. If the play had been acted in the old Mamet tradition of louts stewing broodingly in homicidal rage and exasperation, it would probably be more unsettling when the president disgorges racist, sexist and xenophobic diatribes....November is a David Mamet play for people who don’t like David Mamet. Being a long-time Mamet devotee, I cannot say I see this as a cause for rejoicing. Finding the singular Mamet voice (I mean, other than in its '#@$+*!' verbal punctuation) requires hard listening."

Noting how "it has no sense of proportion or plausibility," Joe Dziamianowicz of New York's Daily News offers thumbs down: "In the past Mamet's work has been incisive, powerful and realistic. Here he goes for an easy, well-worn target and obvious setup: America's highest office is held by a low-life thug (Smith's political party isn't identified). It's so broad that November is a satire with a big mouth but no bite. There's plenty of bark though. Lane revels in his freewheeling performance, launching one-liners -- some very funny -- and endless expletives. Unlike in his dramas, Mamet's streaming profanity here seems like self-parody or ugly wallpaper -- it just hangs there, demanding attention."

Proffering that Mamet "takes the lazy way out with the election-year sitcom," Newsday's Linda Winer casts a negative ballot: "Instead of wit and fury, we get gags and grimaces. Instead of humor so daring that critics have been known to bite their own lips to maintain decorum, the comedy is so eager-to-please that we strain to hear Mamet's voice beyond the punch lines....[t]here is scant resemblance to real-world satire....Mantello appears unwilling or unable to find the seriously wonderful actor who existed before Lane froze his distinctive trumpet voice and flipper eyebrows in monster comedies. When Mamet's sly street-poet humor meets the hard sell, the language grates."

So there you have it folks, a split vote. I'll be offering my own SOB Review once I see the show right in the middle of primary season.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
November's January Opening (January 18, 2008)
Metcalf Elects To Join November (August 9, 2007)
Will Mamet Offer Hail To Nathan Lane? (May 10, 2007)

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At 18 January, 2008, Anonymous Broadway Baby said...

I'm beginning to think that the NY critics are softening. I find it interesting almost all the NY critics absolutely hated David Mamet's "Romance", which was also a laugh-out-loud comedy.

At 18 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Wow. If you put it alongside Romance, I really wonder if I'll like this one. While I never reviewed it (it hit prior to my launching SOB), I despised it.

At 23 January, 2008, Blogger buddyindc1 said...

I saw November on 1/20/08 - one year prior to the inauguration of a really new president. Too bad Nathan lane isn't running. He would bring a fresh face to the White House. I found the play enjoyable and funny. The audience appeared to like the jokes and the tempo of this off-the-wall plot. However, the story runs a little off course toward the end. I would give it 2 1/2 out of 4 stars. Nathan's acting is first rate; however, he disappointed a small crowd waiting in the freezing cold by blowing off everyone waiting for an autograph. That's not the Broadway spirit, Nathan. You can always tell a lot about a star by the way they treat their fans.

At 23 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Hey Buddy, Thanks for electing to weigh in on November. Not very presidential of Nathan Lane to brush off the people who helped make him a stage success: his audience.


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