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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

The cast of Windfall Theatre's "November."

"November" exercises theater's political funny bone


Just in case you haven't gotten enough laughs out of the presidential campaign currently overwhelming all of us, turn your attention, if you will, to November.

Not the month. Rather, "November," David Mamet's blistering look at politics at the highest level that opened in sparkling fashion Friday night at Windfall Theatre.

Sure, that stuff about the 47 percent and Obama missing the first debate has you rolling in the aisles. We all get the laughs from "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show" and Colbert and even Bill O'Reilly. They bring us a new laugh or two every day thanks to cameras that never turn off and microphones that are on 24-7.

You think that stuff is funny? How about this?

You've got a president who is a week away from election day and the polls have him losing big. He has no money. He has no friends. In this case at least, he has no hair.

He has one ad running in Cleveland and another in Cincinnati. And that's it. Nobody calls him, except his wife.

And so he begins a desperate, frantic and tortured search for someone to shake down for money.

The National Association of Turkey Manufacturers seems a prime candidate. With the traditional pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey on tap, President Charles Smith decides to put the arm on the association for money.

"Pay for the Pardon" it's called. But balking over money is the coin of the realm in politics, and so Smith tries to prove first that the pilgrims ate pork, not turkey, then prove that they ate cod but called it tuna and then that there was no Thanksgiving at all, just an orgy with naked Indians dancing all over the place.

If this all seems a little much, well, it is. There is no such thing as excess in the list of those offended in one way or another. It includes: lesbians, gays, Indians, Scandinavians, Iranians, Iraqis, Jews, Arabs, Bavarians, Chinese, orphans, Bulgarians and walruses.

The temptation is to think of this play, after it's all over, as a series of one-liners that come so fast you had better pay attention or you may not even know what the heck you are laughing about.

But it is certainly more than a collection of zingers, thanks in large measure to the tour de force performance of Robert W. C. Kennedy as President Charles Smith. In a performance that shows exciting range, Kennedy makes sure we don't know if Smith is stupid or smart, venal or moral, lying or honest, funny or pathetic.

Mamet may be trying to create some kind of morality play about the absurdity of the world of politics, but nobody takes any of this stuff seriously. We regularly see more extreme examples of how ridiculous all this stuff is.

So it's left to Kennedy, and his cast mates, to wring every possible laugh out of each and every wild and crazy situation. Kennedy is a regular in theaters in Milwaukee, but this may well be his crowning moment. His performance combines the two most critical things an actor must have: discipline and freedom. It's a delicate balance, but he roars through this thing like a freight train with a stoked load of coal spinning the wheels.

The rest of the cast is marvelous as well, and special credit has to go to Kevin Hogan, who is the president's lawyer and top adviser, for his ability to remain nonplussed in the face of the most extreme challenges facing his boss. The scene when he tries to describe why it's illegal for the president to marry two women is so funny you have to strain to hear the lines over the laughter of the audience.

"November" runs through Oct. 27 and tickets are available at the Village Church, 130 E. Juneau Ave., or by calling (414) 332-3963.

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