November on Broadway

March 27th, 2008 § 1 comment

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Going to the Barrymore Theater to see a play was rather similar to going to the Dorothy Chandler to see a ballet. The LA audience at the music center is usually made up of a post-retired crowd of performing arts lovers, awaiting to be moved not by the passion of the story, but by the latest pair of pretty feet. The last time I was there there, J and I saw ABT perform an impressive version of Swan Lake, during an intermission I overheard some older ladies talking about the leading dancer, who I was not familiar with, in a derogatory manner because they did not happen to like her legs and feet. Silly women who I am sure never stuffed their flat feet into pointe shoes to execute some forty fouette turns. Still, at such events I never felt totally out of place, there are always the dreamy little girls with their mothers and grandmothers, and of course the determined teenage dancers aspiring to be in ABT themselves someday soon if ever, I can pick them out by their duck walk, and yes, I used to be one of them.

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Going to see November, David Mamet’s new play on Broadway, was similar in this way but more extreme. It was a lovely day in NYC, as warm and sunny as it was in Richmond, and after a nice dinner (and several margaritas) with friends delighted by the possibility of us moving to the city in the fall (oh and you are going to love so-and-so!! they would say) we made our way to the theater. After sitting down, taking in the set and surroundings, it became apparent that we were by far the youngest people there. This age divide took on a more generational significance later in the evening as the play began.

I don’t know as much about Mamet as perhaps I ought to, but I have read enough to know that his new political satire, with obvious overtones aimed at the current administration, would be quite funny and rather daring. What I was a bit curious about was to see what kind of potential meaning he was going to extract from his mockery, what conclusions he might draw through his humorously luckless characters, condemned to playing every sort of familiar political fool. It was not parties or morality he was criticizing but rather the type of person that fulfills a certain political function-speechwriter, president, advisor. If I subtract the actors from the play the writing was much more subversive, or at least more interesting, than the manner in which the play was produced. Some of the acting was funny not because of the words but because the acting, expressions, manners, movement, etc. but too much of it fell into a sort of sitcomesque, laugh now! Nathan Lane was quite a compelling asshole, playing an idiotic president more worried about going home poor than the lowest polls in the history of polls.

Why are the polls so low?
Because they hate you.
Why?
Because you’re still here!

The rest of the actors, the other two I should say, acted more as Lane’s props than as characters in and of themselves, but again perhaps this was intentional. Manet avoided the problem of finding or drawing conclusions by allowing the ending act to turn into a, to quote, “clusterfuck” of theatrics.

What was perhaps most amusing about both the play and the experience was the difference between what we laughed at and what the older crowd found amusing. Some of the best lines, the most pointed, and perhaps extreme, went completely unnoticed. There were a few slightly embarrassing times when J and I laughed out loud and not only was no one else, but the theater was rather silent, suggesting that not only did other people not think the line was funny but they found it offensive. One line, something like, “after the revolution comments like that will get you taken out into the street and shot” was quite funny to us because we say things like that all the time in jest and in justice. It was these type of things that were met with complete silence. It reminded me of the protest we went to last year, and how the manners of resistance were divided by age. What was most truthful to us was the most amusing, it was like hearing what you always want to say but never really can without someone jumping down your throat. No one here jumped, they simply fell silent, condemning the next few lines to awkward moments of dull recovery.

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§ One Response to November on Broadway

  • mumsie says:

    Yes, I know the crowd. . . . . like the well-off West LA “liberals” on Prozac that attend cultural functions here. . . . . their conversations are painful to be subjected to and they do always laugh in the wrong places!

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