Salisbury Press

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Theater Review: Crowded Kitchen Players tear down that wall in ‘November’

Monday, October 10, 2016 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

If you think the 2016 presidential election is really crazy you obviously haven’t seen “November,” the cynical, yet hilarious look at Oval Office politics by Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright David Mamet, now playing at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, 56 River St., Sand Island, Bethlehem.

The play, staged by The Crowded Kitchen Players, the repertory company based in the Allentown area, opened Oct. 7. This review is of the Oct. 9 matinee. Performances continue at 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 15 and 21, and 2 p.m. Oct. 16.

The plot is all-too familiar these days. It is one week before the presidential election, and President Charles “Chucky” Smith wants desperately to win re-election.

The problem? Smith’s coffers are empty, nuclear war with Iran is imminent, and his approval ratings are “lower than Ghandi’s cholesterol.”

How he tries to overcome these shortcomings provides non-stop humor fueled by one-liners, and gives double meaning to the relevance of the political potboiler month of “November.”

This is director Ara Barlieb’s 67th production with the Crowded Kitchen Players, which he co-founded with Pamela McLean Wallace. He has assembled a cast of experienced actors, and has handled well the delicate job of keeping the audience laughing despite the script’s flood of politically-incorrect insults, and its overuse of the “f” word.

Tom Harrison carries the show as the obnoxious, bullying, swearing, threatening, crass, self-absorbed, rude Chief Executive, and does it in a way that you can’t help rooting for him. At one point, he laments that the job of President is too stressful, and has too little opportunity for theft.

Harrison keeps up an almost endless banter, whether with the faceless people on the telephone, or the characters on stage. Beyond that, he also has the daunting task of introducing every one of the subplots that set the tempo and move the action forward.

David Fox as the President’s frustrated advisor is the perfect straight man, delivering one-liners with attitude: “You can’t kick out all the immigrants. You need them to build the wall.”

When President Smith asks why the people hate him so much, Fox fires back, “Because you’re still here.”

The President’s speechwriter (Sharon Ferry) does a nice job of turning from her boss’s dupe to an outspoken, determined advocate. Bruce F. Brown (the Turkey Guy) and Michael Thew (Grackle the Native American) carry off their small, but important supporting roles.

“November” opened on Broadway in January 2008, and is full of satire about graft, fraud, wars in far-off lands, lack of concern for the populace, the culture of special-interest groups and corporate lobbyists, and even the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico.

In his director’s notes in the program, Barlieb says that Mamet wrote “November” in a rage after eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration. “Mamet thought he was being funny. He never dreamed he was being prophetic.”