David Mamet's November Doesn't Respect Any Politicians, Its Director Promises

Sanford Robbins, in town directing the Alley Theatre's production of David Mamet's November, says he knew he needed to switch from actor to director when he started to find himself on stage thinking about where stage props should be and how lines should be delivered.

"I'd be on stage thinking this should be over there and she should be faster here and so I realized that really was probably not such a good thing for an actor," he told Art Attack. "And so people gave me some chances to do it and here I am. And I didn't like repeating it over and over again, which is a bad thing to not like if you're going to be an actor.

The Alley is getting an early start on its 2012-13 season with Mamet's political comedy about a U.S. president up for re-election. The famed playwright takes apart his targets -- in this case politicians -- with more humor and a bit less roughness than in some of his other work.

This is the second time Robbins has been brought in to direct at the Alley (You Can't Take It With You was the first). Robbins, the theater department chairman at the University of Delaware, runs a very distinctive training program there for people who want to be stage actors. He went to school with Alley Artistic Director Gregory Boyd and the two have been friends for years.

He's been in Houston since July 26, working with the Alley cast members, all but one of whom he already knew.

"We're trying to make sure that all the comic points that David Mamet has made, land with the audience. That's really the director's job, to stand in for the audience till they arrive," Robbins says.

Mamet wrote this play back in 2007, when it appeared on Broadway. In some ways, Robbins says, it will appeal to more theater-goers now with the U.S. Congress's rating at an all-time low. "It's a farce; it's a comedy," Robbins says. "This play is unkind to politicians of any color, stripe, type. It is unbiased in its contempt for all things political."

Alley actor Jeffrey Bean stars as President Charles Smith, who is trying to be re-elected to a second term while dealing with people such as "a representative of the National Association of Turkey & Turkey By-Products Manufacturers" (played by James Belcher).

This is the first time Robbins has done a Mamet play. (He does a lot of Sam Shepard's work, and is a big admirer of Edward Albee.) In many respects, this is unlike any other of Mamet's work, he says. "This is not like his usual plays. This play is just flat-out funny. It has its share of scatological language. I think if you mailed this play to theaters around the country and didn't say who the author was, no one would guess."

At the same time, however, Robbins says this play is just like Mamet's other work because "his insights into politics, the corruption of the system and the unworkability of it is, I think. pretty sharp. And that is consistent in all of his plays."

This is a relatively short play -- 90 minutes with intermission -- but during that time, "The President maligns everyone equally," Robbins promises. So whether you're Red or Blue, be prepared. And in the relative smallness of the Neuhaus Stage, it'll be up close and personal.

Opening night for November is August 29 and the play runs through September 23 on the Neuhaus Stage, Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. Call 713-220-5700 or go to $48-$63.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing