‘November’ at Dominion Stage by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

Power + Corruption = Success  

Looking for a theater production to kick off your countdown to Election Day? Search no further than Dominion Stage’s thoroughly entertaining production of David Mamet’s November for a stimulating evening of provocative political satire at Theater on the Run in Arlington, VA.

Dave Wright (President Charles Smith), James Senavitis (Chief of Staff, Archer Brown), Michael Nephew (Chief Dwight Grackle), and Gary Cramer (The Turkey Representative). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.

November, first produced on Broadway in 2008, jeers and disparages overseas adoption, gay marriage, public relations, Native American casinos, Thanksgiving… and almost everything about the Presidential office. (It makes one wonder if politicians are stealing Mamet’s material).  Dominion Stage’s production, under the insightful direction of T. J. Keiter, thrives because of the strength of the humor and the fine performances.

November succeeds as a piercing over-the-top social commentary of American politics, political incorrectness, and the lengths people go to win. This consummate cast gives the audience nearly everything one could want from an intelligent, diverting night at the theater. The dialogue is smart, the laughs are many, and the consistency of revelatory performances surprise you at every turn.

The play depicts one day in the life of the cynical, corrupt, and foul mouthed, Charles H.P. Smith, The President of the United States, who is days away from anticipating defeat in his bid for reelection. His staff, ably played by real life husband and wife – James Senavitis, (Archer Brown) as his amoral lawyer, and Aimee Meher-Homji, (Clarice Bernstein) as his devoted speech writer – have also all but given in to defeat, and his security detail is nowhere to be found.

Stylishly set in the Oval Office, Set Designer David M.Moretti and Properties Designer Marcia Carpenter, do an excellent job of effectively rendering the Executive Office and recreating the established ‘Presidential’ tone with strategically placed props to authenticate the look.

On stage the entire two hours of the show, Dave Wright is phenomenally good as Charles H.P. Smith, the rash, and irascible Leader of the Free World. Wright’s commanding performance immediately grabs the audiences’ attention with his inspired, combative wit and quick timing – taking us for a hilarious ride that doesn’t let go.

We are introduced to this Commander in Chief as a lame duck incumbent short of cash and worried about getting a Presidential library and guaranteed future. With poll numbers “as low as Gandhi’s cholesterol” and in the midst of the biggest fight of his political career, the President takes an annual publicity event of finding time to pardon some turkeys from the slaughter before Thanksgiving, and manipulates this as an opportunity to win back the public’s support and a chance at a second term. “I always felt that I’d do something memorable – I just assumed it’d be getting impeached,” he says.

Dave Wright (President Charles Smith) and James Senavitis (Chief of Staff, Archer Brown). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.

Enter, the perfectly cast scene-stealing, bespectacled, Gary Cramer (The Representative of a National Association of Turkey Products and Turkey Manufacturers). One is totally convinced as soon as this disquieting, anxious man bumbles onto the stage, that this guy is exactly what Mamet had in mind when he wrote his character – a turkey lobbyist. Cramer’s signature creation comes with a wiry stride, uncomfortable but determined mannerisms, and the emotional disposition of a ticking time bomb. Not only do you believe his acting performance – it’s hard to believe that he’s not the character. Gary Cramer is the real deal. He’s that good, and, his memorable performance is not to be forgotten.

Back to the President. The Turkey Representative annoys him, and they share several heated exchanges. This President doesn’t fake the niceties. He is a President who never misses an opportunity for a stinging one-liner where an obscenity couldn’t satisfy the situation for him. In Dave Wright’s deft hands this President is a both a bully and a desperado, all while maintaining a charismatic likeability; and, judging by the repeated laugh out loud responses from the audience, he kept them responsively connected throughout the eventual outcome.

Dominion Stage’s presentation of November is a stellar example of great theater. It’s a win-win situation.

Running time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

November plays through June 16, 2012 at Dominion Stage at Theatre on the Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them online, or purchase them at the door.


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