The most astonishing thing about David Mamet’s new, manic Broadway play, the political satire November, is this: There is a lesbian hero.
She’s an unlikely hero, to be sure. Awkwardly dressed — more 1970s granola than 2008 L Word — with a Whole Foods bag slung over her arm, speechwriter Clarice Bernstein (played with goofy stalwartness by Laurie Metcalf) is a lesbian revolutionary working for a president who is a racist, misogynist, homophobic extortionist.
And yet before the play is over, Clarice will endanger her life, stick to her ideals, and work hard to convince the incumbent President that he should officiate at her and her partner’s wedding on national television, thus setting a precedent for gay and lesbian couples throughout the United States.
It’s not clear why a woman with her principles would support a starkly unprincipled man like President Charles Smith. This is not to say that Smith isn’t a likable guy. After all, he’s played by the affable Nathan Lane, who uses precise comic timing and a sort of squinting disbelief to turn the failed Smith into a kind of Red State anti-hero. Picture a behind-closed-doors Richard Nixon played by The Producers‘ genial con man Max Bialystock (also played by Lane), and you get the idea. He makes the unpalatable strangely funny.
When Smith says, "Me and my wife don’t count for anything. We aren’t homosexual or black or Palestinian or deaf or something. All we are is normal," we are to understand that regular, straight white guys like him are besieged by the tumult of "others" in America.
It is Clarice who changes his mind. Sort of. Well, OK, it’s not ever clear that she changes his mind, but she at least writes a speech that he is desperate to give, and in that speech she talks about how it is exactly this play of difference upon difference that makes America strong, especially when it is tempered by the liberal idea that despite these very differences, we should respect (and maybe even have affection for) each other anyway.
Laurie Metcalf in November
"America is not divided," she says, "it’s a democracy. We hold different opinions, but laugh at the same jokes. We clap each other’s backs at the end of the day after someone’s made quota. I’m not sure that we don’t love each other."
Mamet could have made more of this idea than he does. Instead, it’s buried inside an absurd and mildly comic plot that includes the presidential pardoning of turkeys, a Native American threatening to take over Nantucket, the re-covering of a couch, and bird flu.