Vote for Maštalír!
Photo: Divadlo Aréna
Why is turkey so important for Americans? Why can’t they eat pork or tuna instead for Thanksgiving dinner? Why can’t gay people get married? And why are Native Americans not allowed to build casinos on their own reservations? Why? Why? Why? It seems that “the country of unlimited possibilities” is actually limited in many ways…
November, a play premiered in Aréna theatre on 9 December 2011, was written by American playwright David Mamet in 2007. He is known for the sharp, rough, vernacular style of his dialogues, which is so unique that it has become known as “Mamet speak”. The play November, whose premiere took place at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway, the first time in Mamet’s long and distinguished career, is also a clear example of this style.
The protagonist of the comedy is President Charles Smith, and the whole performance takes place in the Oval Office several days before his second run for presidency. Smith’s poll numbers are at a standstill, and he is so afraid of losing his office that he is willing to do anything to maintain it. The only people still standing on his side are his lawyer, Archie Baker, and his lesbian speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein. In order to help Smith keep his presidential chair for another four years, they have to raise money for his media election campaign. However, nobody is willing to invest in Charles Smith as nobody likes him: he is a racist and sexist, known for his xenophobic diatribes, who transports the so-called dissidents on a “piggy plane” to Bulgaria. Therefore, he resorts to dishonesty to achieve what he wants: he blackmails the representatives of turkey by-product manufacturers, negotiates with an Indian chieftain about the construction of a casino in the Nantucket reservation, and deceives his lesbian speechwriter Bernstein by promising to arrange a wedding for her and her girlfriend in return for a winning speech. And if somebody voices protest, he threatens to send them to Bulgaria on a “piggy plane”.
There is no doubt that the play refers to ex-President George Bush and the period before his re-election. He was accused of abusing his power, waging a pointless aggressive war, lying to and breaking the rights of citizens, ignoring executive and legislative branches, and torturing prisoners. Although David Mamet denied that the play is a parody on President Bush, the innuendos are clear. On the other hand, the play is not just about one person, but about a world of corruption and incompetent political leaders.
The character of Charles Smith perfectly suits Tomáš Maštalír, who seems to revel in challenges. Yelling, cursing, but always looking perfect… This is how we love him. The majority of people in Slovakia know Maštalír only from TV screens, but his performance on TV shows is incomparable to the one on the stage. Since November is more or less a one-man show, it is a big challenge for him to capture the character of an American politician and to completely attract the interest of the audience. In my opinion, he does an amazing job. The role requires an actor who is able to convey a great range of emotions and switch between them at a fairly high pace, and Maštalír is such an actor. He can go, let’s say, from “zero to jerk” in a few seconds, changing his expression from a sweet smile to a furious bull. Even all the cursing sounds perfectly natural in his mouth, although the translator was not very creative in this respect.
The rest of the cast is also worth mentioning. Boris Farkaš, usually playing in the Astorka theatre, excels in the role of President’s lawyer and chief of staff and budget, Archer Brown. As a friend of President’s, he is trying to help him maintain his office, but at the same time he is trying to keep him within the bounds of the law. Unfortunately, President has a will of his own, and he is not bothered about what is right or wrong, or, in this case, legal or illegal. As a result, Archie is becoming somewhat involuntarily complicit in all the wrongdoings. Boris Farkaš plays this character with a mixture of indolence and eagerness, and although his character seems to be the only rational one in this play, he is not far from going crazy.
Another great performance is offered by Jana Oľhová in the role of the lesbian speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein. She is an idealist and believes in democracy, law, and especially – in love. When she realizes what President is up to, she refuses to write him a speech for a press conference. In the end, after a long time of persuasion, she is willing to do so but on one condition: President has to marry her and her girlfriend Daisy before he gives the speech. That is, of course, illegal, but to carry his point, President has no boundaries. For Jana Oľhová it is the first time to play a lesbian woman, and she does it with grace. She is a perfect example of a romantic woman who believes in the power of love. It is the only thing for which she is willing to cross the line and break the law. For me, the performance of Oľhová was a little too hippie in some moments, but I guess it simply portrays another attribute of the American society.
Globally speaking, the play is very good. I appreciated especially the simplicity of the scene, which consists of a single rotating platform with a desk and chairs on it. The actors create a perfect atmosphere and manage to mediate imaginary situations happening at the “lobby of the Oval Office”, which the audience can imagine only from phone calls made on the stage.
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