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Corn Stock Winter Playhouse
October 17-18 & 23-26

By Marty Lynch

Elections are coming up, and what better way could Corn Stock Winter Playhouse celebrate than with a production of November. David Mamet plies all of his skill in a behind the scenes look at a fictional president desperately trying to avoid a humiliating defeat. What I love best about it is the fact that it boils politics down to its simplest form: drama.

This is a play that feels like it was written for us. Nobody needs to understand or enjoy politics to enjoy watching a man in power cling to it. We in particular don’t need to see this happen onstage when we see it on the news every day. I even heard on the radio that the folks of Illinois are so tired of politics that we can yawn through a scandal that would bring a politician crashing down in any other state, province, or protectorate. That’s part of the magic of seeing this play in Peoria: we get to catch a glimpse of an alternate universe with president Rod Blagoyevich. Anyone else might see a play about petty thugs in power when we get to watch what might have been.

The entire play takes place in the oval office just before Election Day. In this case, President Charles H.P. Smith is about to be badly beaten in his bid for re-election and all of his friends are jumping ship. Unable to cope with this reality, president Smith calls in every favor and dreams up a number of fantastic scenarios that might give him hope until he finally lands on one: shakedown the folks trying to get him to pardon the turkey for Thanksgiving. At this point I could go into spoilers, but all I need to say is that this is a David Mamet play.

If you don’t know Mamet, then this play is probably a good primer for you. His plays are notoriously difficult to perform, so any theatre with the courage to try it is already brave in my book. It happens that this is director Bill Liesse’s debut, which is all the more impressive that he chose such an undertaking. The language and the intensity and complexity of what is going on at any time is so immense that Alec Baldwin once earned an Oscar nomination for being in only one scene of a Mamet film. Characters in a Mamet play are almost never likeable, but it’s impossible to stop watching them.

Naturally a play with characters of such gravitas requires actors that are up to the task. David Cook is the man charged with the double gauntlet of performing Mamet and playing the president. The man plays the leader of the free world rolled into a child throwing a tantrum rolled into a blue collar factory of ethnic slurs and cusses while dressed in an impeccable suit. Orbiting Cook’s whirlpool of intensity are Paul Gordon as his chief of staff, followed by Shannon Orrill as his speech writer Clarice Bernstein, Alex Van Beek as the turkey guy, and rounded out by Zach Gittrich as Chief Dwight Grackle of the Micmac Nation. All of them play their parts with great skill, and the closer they are to the star, the brighter they shine. This is a show about the president, though, and Cook is the star.

The biggest challenge with a play about a president is that everybody hates politics. This play skewers politicians and campaigns for the most part, but this could be a play about a governor or a mayor and have the same message. Mamet has strong political feelings that certainly shine through in the play, but this doesn’t feel like a play that identifies at Democrat or Republican as much as it feels Illinoisan. There is a wonderful satisfaction that comes from watching this fictional president in the rare moments that decides to try acting like a human being. As I drove home I happened to pass a church that had the show’s essence on its sign: Making mistakes is better than faking perfection. Wouldn’t it be great to see more politicians with a motto like that?

November continues at Corn Stock Winter Playhouse from October 23 - 26. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and are available at the Corn Stock box office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at

Loose Ends

• The Secret Service jokes were throwaway jokes when they were written but they are extremely timely and funny now.
• Rated R for language.
• 2 hours on the dot, including intermission.
• Take a moment to read the actor bios in the lobby and see the range of the cast. Mr. Cellpohane playing the Chief of Staff Archer Brown is just one example.
• If Mamety was a word I would have used it 30 times.
• Set design shout-out: I love the Bulgarian flag thrown in there.
• Impressive live sound reinforcement, but the pre-show music made me wonder if the play was set in the 90’s.
• Thanks to Cindy Hoey and the folks at concessions for always being so friendly!
• Alec Baldwin’s nomination was for Glengarry Glen Ross

Posted October 20, 2014