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Theater Review: “November”

Greg McAfee as President Charles HP Smith and Rhiannon McAfee as Clarice Bernstein
Photo credit:
Adriana Zuniga-Williams

U.S. President Charles H.P. Smith (Greg McAfee) is about to lose his re-election bid. His numbers have dropped “lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol” and he needs money for his presidential library, even if it’s too late for the campaign.

“What is it about me that people don’t like?” he asks adviser Archer Brown (Dave Hibler)

“That you’re still here,” comes the devastating response.

It’s David Mamet, taking a satirical jab at American politics in “November,” now getting a sparkling production at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse.     

Smith is down to that last silly-but-traditional presidential act of pardoning a turkey just before Thanksgiving.

This year the Turkey Rep (okay, the representative of the National Association of Turkey and Poultry Products, played to perfection by James E. Steinberg) has brought two turkeys he wants pardoned, and has come to remind the president that the birds want to smell the presidential hand before the official act is completed.

Smith smells something else: money, and intends to soak the rep for a much larger contribution to perform this act of multiple mercy.

Meanwhile, Smith’s lesbian speechwriter Clarice Bernstein (Rhiannon McAfee) is just back from China, where she and her partner adopted a Chinese baby – and also caught a bug of some sort. She spends the entire play sneezing. Does she have bird flu?

Smith needs a boffo speech from Bernstein. But she wants something from him as well: she wants him to preside at her wedding. Archer reminds him he can’t do it legally, but Bernstein won’t write the speech unless he agrees.

A late arrival, Charley Miller as Native American Chief Dwight Grackle, comes to claim property for (what else?) a casino.

Just your typical day in the Oval Office – right? – and this crew, hilariously directed by Steve Murdock, takes advantage of every giggle possibility by treating those lines as if they were of earth-shattering importance.

McAfee and Hibler are perfect foils: two suits running the country with an amusing if not breathtaking sense of the absurd, a speechwriter who tries to make them sound reasonable and two constituents who want something. It’s perfect, especially for this particular election cycle, great fun and entirely too familiar.

Rhiannon McAfee is a hoot as sniffly speechwriter Clarice, and Miller makes the most of a late-arrival part that serves more as plot device than as character.

Kudos to O.P. Hadlock for the expansive Oval Office set design, Lisa Burgess for the appropriate costumes and Chad Oakley for the lighting design. And most especially to Steve Murdock and this excellent cast for keeping the ball rolling.

Oh, and in case you’re unfamiliar with Mamet’s expletive-laden writing style, OnStage offers this helpful program note: “This is a David Mamet play. Please adjust your #@*&%!!! ears accordingly.”

The details:

“November” plays through November 19, 2016 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org