Sunday, August 12, 2018

Theatre in Santa Fe: “November”

When we first came to Santa Fe, theatre was spotty.  There was the Santa Fe Playhouse but what we had seen there was more of a high school quality than professional.  Under new direction, however, I understand it has improved greatly.  Somehow, while opera got better and better and there was more and more dance, from classical ballet to modern dance, and even classical orchestra and choral groups, we saw no continuous theater.  Various Shakespeare companies came and went as they also could not find their audience.

In recent times this has changed, however, an online publication called Theatre Santa Fe ( might post 6 different theatre pieces in a single week and recently Shakespeare has returned as well.  It is rarely on the “main drag”, however.   To put it in New York terms we only have one “Broadway” house and that is the Lensic Performing Arts Center, about which I have written often, but  there has been a burst of what could be called “off Broadway” houses.

An outlying area in Santa Fe has been developing as a center for the arts.  It is known as the Siler Rufino Nexus or Sirun for short.  The name comes from two  streets that cross, Siler and Rufina.  It calls itself a creative innovation district” and is anchored by the hugely popular arts project Meow Wolf, the Disneyland of Santa Fe.  In Sirun, you will find all manner of the arts, including a circus school and small “black box” theatres, perfect for intimate shows.

We attended one of these recently at Teatro Paraguas, translated as “umbrella theatre“ in that it hosts guest productions in addition to its own Spanish language and Latino plays.  On this occasion we saw a troupe called The New Mexico’s Actor’s Lab perform the play “November”, a comedy  by David Mamet.  If you saw it you would not be surprised if you were told that it was written last week but in fact it was written in 2007 and opened on Broadway in January of 2008, playing for 6 months to mixed reviews. 

One of the ads for the show starts, “So, a lesbian, a Native American and a turkey lobbyist walk into the White House...”  The characters are indeed the president, his chief of staff and speech writer (the lesbian), the man trying to convince the president to pardon a turkey (no, 2 turkeys) before Thanksgiving and a Native American (formerly known as an Indian).

The President, his speech writer and the turkey lobbyist

The action, as it were, takes place in the oval office, the incumbent president is determined to get a second term.  As the play starts out:

President: (Charles E. Smith): “Can these numbers be right?  These numbers can’t be right.
Chief of Staff: (Archer): “They’re right”
President:  “Why, Why we won the first time, Archie.  Four scant years.  Why have they turned against me now?”
Chief of Staff:  “Because you’ve fucked everything up you’ve touched.”


President: “What is it about me that people don’t like?”
Chief of Staff: “That you’re still here.”

Sound familiar?  How timely or in this case prescient can a theatre piece be?

The comedy continues:

David Mamet clearly keeps a tight rein on his material but one can find a few clips on line in English and other languages.  It becomes very clear that any director of the play can handle the same material in many different ways.  I was sorry that the actor playing the president didn’t play it a little more Trumpian but I found out that the director decided that the audience would figure that out for themselves.  I did know Campbell Martin, who played the  turkey lobbyist, personally since he trains me in Pilates. He had his own band in New York, was on Broadway in various plays, then went to work internationally for a bank and finally came to Santa Fe as a Pilates trainer. Happily for us he appears, every once in a while, in the theatre here.  At one point in the play he embellished the indications in the script with the permission of the director.  The instruction is that the Turkey lobbyist goes after the President.  Campbell is suddenly running across the stage and dives headlong, sliding across the president’s desk and grabbing him until he is pulled off by his chief of staff.

The play continues with the president making one gaffe after the other.  After agreeing to marry his lesbian speech writer to her significant other though he has been told repeatedly that (at that time) it was illegal, she writes him the following speech but he keeps going off script. You can be sure that all the bleeps in this clip are not bleeped on stage:

While some critics at the time said the language was used to cover a lack of writing ability, no one would ever think so today.  Less than a decade later and so much has changed, and yet it is just a matter of degree.  Personally, I hope this play is put on in every city, town and village until 2020.  At this point it will play in Santa Fe for just this week, Thursday through Sunday.

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