This is the sentiment that begins Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s production of November, a satirical take on an idiot president in the White House with grim re-election prospects. Mature, smart and outrageous, its satire now seems all too plausible after the events of recent years.
A Bush-era satire following a failing, controversial and idiotic president just a few days before American Thanksgiving and Election Day, November is tightly written and, while slightly dated, has a real message to share.
President Charles ‘Chuck’ Smith is a bombastic, rhetoric-spouting president with “no cash, no hope and no covfefe.” His inner circle has left him, his polls are down and no one has stayed by his side save his ever-suffering lawyer and aide, Archer Brown.
With the traditional national pardoning of a turkey fast approaching, Chuck hatches a plot with Archer to shake The Turkey Representative down for all the money he can to pay for a library. However, when his speech writer Clarice Bernstein writes a speech that just might save his presidency and he scams the money he needs, he just might have a chance for a second term. Now if only Clarice didn’t want him to marry her and her girlfriend on the national stage…
Colin Sanford, as the dimwitted and loud-mouthed Chuck, anchors November with real range and nuance. Sanford plays Chuck excellently, bringing his character through highs and lows; one moment threatening to lock a man in a hole and kill his cat, the next being quietly introspective about what his presidency really meant.
As Chuck drives the entire plot and conflict of the play, this role truly is key and Sanford proved more than capable in it. His use of tone, language and stage business helped illustrate a vindictive, un-censored but ultimately dimwitted man that elicited, if not sympathy, great amusement.
“Yes, I mind if you put me on hold! I’m the president of the United States!” President Charles Smith, November.
Serving as the straight man to Sanford’s Chuck throughout the play is Neal Matoga in the role of Archer Brown, a lawyer and unscrupulous loyal aide to the president. While much of Matoga’s performance is understated and subdued, he serves as a perfect foil to Sanford’s loud and brash delivery.
Deadpan and reserved, Matoga’s calm and matter of fact line delivery often makes for some of the funniest moments in the play. Serving as the devil on Sanford’s shoulder, he also shows a cold, ruthless side to his character that, while perfectly logical, implies he’s the brain behind the president’s boisterous façade.
Opposite of Matoga as the angel on the president’s shoulder is Karen MacDonald as Clarice Bernstein, the president’s liberal speech writer and an open lesbian. MacDonald’s character feels the most human throughout the play, with a quiet reserved but ultimately put-upon air.
The chemistry she and Sanford have helps bring out the human side of Chuck in ways the other characters can not do, making for some truly touching and illuminating scenes. MacDonald’s stage business is excellent, finding ways to be dynamic and amusing even when not speaking.
“Well, the people were wrong.” President Charles Smith, November.
“That’s their right.” Clarice Bernstein, November.
Chris Armstrong, meanwhile, displays perhaps the most drastic character transformation as the fussy and intolerant man known only as The Turkey Representative. Armstrong plays a reserved prim and proper man who, when faced with the president’s demands and obstinacy, quickly begins to crack under pressure as the play progresses.
His eventual breakdown makes for one of the funniest moments of the play, as are some of his lines about the ‘president smelling the turkey’s hands.’
“Your numbers are lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol.” The Turkey Representative, November.
Finally, Jamie Regrier as Chief Dwight Grackle explodes onto the stage in the second half of the play and steals the spotlight. Regirer has the least time to establish a character of everyone on stage but does so in a fiery, no holds barred way that’s memorable and entertains.
Regrier’s late introduction infuses the remainder of the play with energy and passion that carries over into the final curtain and spotlight upon the presidential seal.
Design wise, props need to go to Regirer’s craftsmanship of the set. Together with other members of the Studio Theatre, they brought their own version of the Oval Office to life on stage complete with paintings of Lincoln, American Flags and a few little personal ‘Chuck’ touches.
Costumes and makeup were excellent, while simple. Each suit for the men was perfectly tailored, while Bernstein’s wedding dress and fur coat were a wonderful addition. The makeup to make Bernstein look sick is effective and minimalist and only serves to enhance MacDonald’s performance.
Technically, the play’s lighting and sound cues are excellent, expertly managed by Curt Sprickerhoff and Alix Leary, respectively. Lighting transitions are smooth while sound is also spot on, be it the ever constant ringing of phones or the gobbling of turkeys.
Overall the play is funny and engaging, though it has a somewhat slow first act that primarily sets up for much of the punch lines that come in the second act. The humour throughout, however, is unrelenting and provides comedic moments for all audiences.
“Cast is great, crew is great, it’s volunteer hours and it’s almost like a full-time job every week to come here to make sure the set’s OK, everyone’s got their costumes and the actors are working really hard on their lines,” Tollefson said. “I’m really excited to bring this to the stage with a nice little political satire that we hardly do in this town anymore.”
While some of the topics brought up in the play, gay marriage being the most glaring, are out-dated the vast majority of the play still hits particularly close to home. November’s director, Tollefson, specifically chose this play for parallels he sees to President Donald Trump and the current political climate in the U.S.
November in that way is a reminder that truth truly has become stranger then anything satire or fiction has to offer. While Chuck does openly threaten to make people disappear into a hole and swears more then a sailor, much of his rhetoric, while amusing, has been heard South of the border in recent years.
Despite this reality, November still manages to be a farcical and absurd interpretation of life in the White House under a man who may not have been fit for the job. Its cutting and smart dialogue, meanwhile, is what truly sells this production with dozens of memorable lines.
“We can’t build a fence to keep out the illegal immigrants. We need the illegal immigrants to build the fence.” Archer Brown, November.
Perhaps the best commentary on the current political system and rhetoric, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, is found in the first act when Chuck goes off against the supposed evils of Thanksgiving. It’s a surprisingly poignant statement from such an outrageous and often idiotic character.
“What makes this country great? Our ability to correct ourselves.”
From Nov. 7-10 and 14-17 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 10 and 17 at 1 p.m. the Studio Theatre is running Tollefson’s production of November with a run time of roughly two hours, with an intermission. Tickets are on sale online and at the door of the Studio Theatre located at 4100 Mackenzie Ave. North.