Broadway Stars Lane and Metcalf Prepare for Mamet's November

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27 Nov 2007

"It's like if one of the guys from Glengarry Glen Ross was elected president," Tony Award winner Nathan Lane explained about his forthcoming role in the world premiere of David Mamet's November.

Lane will tackle the role of Charles H.P. Smith, the sitting President of the United States, in the new comedy, which began rehearsals Nov. 26 toward a December November start on Broadway.

"It's about the President of the United States who is about to get voted out of office," playwright Mamet told Playbill.com following the company's first read-through. "He's got one week left in office. He's going to lose the election, and his approval rating is in the single digits."

Lane added, "He's rather desperate about trying to salvage his re-election campaign, which is not going well. Basically, he's been informed by his lawyer and his campaign manager that it's pretty much over." As co-star Laurie Metcalf — who plays his speechwriter Clarice Bernstein — bluntly (or Mamet-ly) puts it, "He's fucked everything up, and nobody wants him around anymore."

Audiences will get a peek into the life of the commander-in-chief from behind the closed doors. "It's like they've left a surveillance camera on in the Oval Office, so he speaks in a way he probably wouldn't in public life," revealed Lane. "It's never stated what party he's with. One could make an assumption about it, but he's rather conservative and kinda 'gangsta.' He's kind of a thug, kind of rough around the edges at times, but knows what he wants."



Mamet — who was at work with director Joe Mantello on script notes during the press event — expressed his approval for his star. "Who could be better? Who would you want as president?"

The busy star (Lane) and busy writer (Mamet) had previously crossed paths twice before finally teaming on this production recalled Lane. "He called me at home, I was shocked! 'Hi, it's Dave Mamet'," said Lane about his first offer to be in a Mamet work. "He asked me if I would do this play of his called Boston Marriage — playing a woman. And I said, 'Oh, I so dreamed of you calling me one day, but I hoped I could play a man.'"

At the time, Lane had just finished his first run with The Producers on Broadway and was ready to take a break, so he politely declined and expressed his interest in working together one day. The next chance came a year later: Mamet sent Lane his play Romance, but again the star was busy; this time, doing The Frogs at Lincoln Center. "So, I thought, oh I'll never be asked again. And then Joe [Mantello] was sent this play and read it and called me. I was walking down the street, down Broadway, thinking 'Oh, what the hell am I going to do now?' and [Mantello] said, 'I just finished this Mamet play and all I can hear is you saying these words.' So thank God."

Lane noted that unlike the provocative Frogs, November is not aiming its humor at another sitting president. "[The Frogs] was such a tense time, and I remember an old man screaming out during previews, 'Four more years!' I'd like to ask him right now what he thinks."

"[November] doesn't parallel anything that's going on," said Lane. "It's not a parody of anyone and certainly not Bush. It's more about the political process and this particular man and how he got there and why he's there and why he's on the way out. Mainly, it's meant to be entertaining and a lot of fun, but he is saying something."

The author concurred. "It's a comedy and has to deal with the office of the President of the United States," said Mamet. "I think my closest inspiration would be The Front Page in terms of form."

As for his inspiration, Mamet revealed, "A woman came to my house for Thanksgiving last year, and she'd just gotten off the plane from D.C. where she was flying with two turkeys that had been pardoned by the president. They had bought out first class for the turkeys and a veterinarian in case one of the turkeys died."

Both of the stars — who lead a cast that also includes Dylan Baker, Ethan Phillips and Michael Nichols — admit to being fans of Mamet's work. Metcalf cited his "wicked sense of humor."

"Just hearing out loud for the first time today — and it was also the first time he's ever heard it out loud — I'm amazed that writers do what they do: that he has put this whole thing together and it flows and works perfectly," said Metcalf. "And five completely different voices of five completely different characters. I don't know how he did it, but it was a thrill to hear it out loud and work on it — it was wonderful and so funny."

How does the Pulitzer Prize winner and prolific writer for the stage and screen continue to turn out new works? "It's like fighting," said Mamet. "You know what the first rule of fighting is? Start early."