It only stands to reason that as our quadrennial electoral tomfoolery winds down, someone in our very theatrical town would produce a show about politics.
That it's a comedy ... well, that seems all the more fitting given the utter ridiculousness of presidential politics in general and two specific knuckleheads in particular.
Enter Theatre Pops and its production of "November." See, because it's about a president, get it?
Mike Pryor -- no stranger to comedies or Tulsa stages -- plays a president nearing the end of his term and hell-bent on getting four more years.
"The play is about the last days in office of a really idiotic president who is trying to figure out some kind of way to get another four-year term," said Randall Whalen, director of the show. "The only thing he can decide is to get the head of the National Turkey Growers' Association to give him $200 million.
Any play that has the head of the National Turkey Growers' Association as a character in it is a play I want to see, by the way.
"So he kind of swindles this guy, and at that point, it all goes to hell, which is when the fun ensues," Whalen said.
The show ran on Broadway in 2008 and starred Nathan Lane as the president, which may give some idea of the hijinks involved. Given who would have been in office -- and nearing the end of his term -- when playwright David Mamet would have been penning this work, there are certain similarities one might expect to see between this fictional president and, oh, I don't know, someone who actually served in that post for a time.
Whalen said, though, that they're not going for any sort of Josh Brolin-style portrayal.
"We're not playing it like it's George W.," he said. "There are a lot of similarities -- and the timing of the play -- but one of the quotes that I read from someone who had seen the Broadway play said that Mamet had done something interesting: He created someone so stupid that both Democrats and Republicans alike could hate him. And Mike didn't want to do a George W. impersonation, anyway."
And that's probably a good thing. First of all, we live in a pretty red state, so doing a play that openly mocks a man who tons of people in town think of as a stand-up guy might alienate a few audience members. But secondly, and more importantly, to put Mike Pryor into the straightjacket of an outright impersonation would be to take away a good bit of his comedic prowess -- something that wasn't lost on Whalen from the moment he first found this show.
"When this came along, I read it, and I was really hit with it," he said. "The humor is great. The idea: It's just funny and it worked for me on all levels. The problem was that I didn't know who I could get to play the president, because it's a role that requires a great amount of timing and someone who understands the way Mamet writes."
Having worked with Pryor in the past ("I directed him with American Theatre Company when they did The Santaland Diaries," he said), Whalen eventually approached the actor.
"I thought, 'If I'm going to do this show, it has to be with Mike,'" Whalen said. "And when the opportunity appeared, I called him up and said, 'I've got the date.
Are you interested?' And he said yeah, and he decided to take the trip with me."
Rounding out the five-member cast are a few actors who are by no means new to theater, but are in their first go-round with Theatre Pops.
"There's a lesbian speech writer who goes to China to buy a baby," Whalen said. "She's played by Lisa Cole. The head of the National Turkey Growers' Association is David Virili. Chief Dwight Grackle is played by Charles Kevin Smith."
The lead role opposite the president is played very dry, and for lots of laughs.
"The chief of staff is played by a guy named John Burns, and he's fairly new to Tulsa, but I'm lucky to have found him," Whalen said. "He just kind of appeared, and he's been brilliant. He's low-key and has this incredibly dry, sardonic wit. So there's Mike being all crazy and antic, and John is just throwing things at him almost under his breath. It's two really different energies going on, and it's really working out great."
The whole working-out-great thing is a welcome relief to Whalen. While he has directed quite a few good, successful shows, he still feels a twinge of nerves at the start of a new production, he said.
"Every time I get in with a show, there's always this hesitation or uncertainty, especially when you work with newer actors," he said, specifying that he meant actors with whom he was unfamiliar, and not beginners.
"I didn't know John or Lisa, but the fact that they buy into what I'm saying, and there's this trust between us, it's just a cool feeling," he said.
And the cool feeling has spilled over into the production as a whole, it would seem.
"It's nice to work with actors like that, and it's been a great experience for me. The humor and the comedy -- it's there every night. We obviously care about each other, and rehearsals have been a delight," he said.
"The process of putting this together with these great actors -- it's such a cliché to say 'to see it blossom,' but it's coming to life, and it's cool to watch," he said.
The show runs Thursday, Nov. 8 through Sunday, Nov. 11 in the Liddy Doenges Theater at the Tulsa PAC, 110 E 2nd St. The curtain goes up at 8pm, and at 2pm for the Sunday matinee. Tickets are $15 and available a 918-596-7111 or through the PAC's website, tulsapac.com.
Whalen promised a post-election price break for opening night, as well.
"We're doing a special, post-election opening night special. All Democrats get in for half price," he said. "All Republicans get 50 percent off, and Independents get buy-one-get-one-free."
So, you know, bring your voter registration card.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Arts Experienced to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share this article: