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'November' brings political satire to Corn Stock

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The question of whether playwright David Mamet tries to convey a certain message in his comedy “November” isn’t one that worries Bill Liesse too much.

The play, which opens a six-show run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Corn Stock Theatre’s Winter Playhouse, is political satire at its darkest and Liesse, the director of the five-person comedy, is of a mind that was Mamet’s main goal. “Everybody can read into it anything they want, and I know they do. But I say let’s just laugh for two hours, recognize its absurdity and leave it bipartisan. That’s enough of a message, I think,” Liesse said.

He said he has read where people want to believe Mamet had certain former presidents in mind, mainly George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, when he wrote the play. “I suppose you could find elements of Bush and/or Clinton if you want to read something into it. But I think it’s mostly satire that shows how ugly it can get in that room when there are no cameras around,” Liesse said.

“That room” is the Oval Office, where the two-hour play takes place. It has five characters, all with names that don’t draw any correlations with real people. It has rough language, enough political incorrectness that it smacks of prejudice, some underhanded dealings and a Mamet-way of looking at issues  ̶  in this case, in a closed-minded, absurd fashion.

There is little chance anybody will take it seriously; yet, it may make you wonder just what does go on behind that biggest doors in U.S. government.

Liesse said given the right actors, “there is a small demand on the director to have to connect the writer to the actors.”

Liesse, who is making his directorial debut with “November,” believes he has the right actors in place.

David Cook, a veteran of several plays at Corn Stock’s Winter Playhouse, portrays President Charles Smith, an apparently inept politician who appears on his way out after just one term, unless he can make a scheme or two work in the final week of the campaign.

Another veteran performer, Shannon Orrill, portrays Bernstein, the president’s speech writer who turns one scheme into another to get what she wants, no matter how the president feels about it.  

Yet another Corn Stock veteran, Paul Gordon, portrays Archer Brown, the president’s chief counsel who spends much of his time trying to keep his boss from straying too far from reality.

Alex Van Beek portrays a character known simply as Turkey Guy, the unwitting victim of all the scheming, and Zach Gittrich is Dwight Grackle, a character with an agenda all his own.

“Going into this, before we ever had auditions, I had a very small set of people in mind who could make this piece work. The three leads (Cook, Orrill and Gordon) all were on that list and I got very lucky they came to auditions. The other two were pleasant surprises who do a great job. They all blend well together. We get the humor, the pacing of Mamet,” Liesse said.

He cited Cook for his ability to deliver President Smith the way Mamet intended. “These half words and stops and starts and even the pauses are so perfectly timed, the way they are supposed to be. Add to that the spot-on inflections and it borders on the perfect interpretation of the material,” Liesse said.

When asked to direct “November,” Liesse said he didn’t hesitate. Not only because it is a Mamet piece, but because he has no desire to direct a musical. That’s why he wants to direct in the Winter Playhouse, the small in-the-round theatre where Corn Stock produces edgy pieces. “I love the room. I’m a labber,” said Liesse, referring to the term veteran Corn Stock members still use when referring to the Winter Playhouse  ̶  the lab.

The Winter Playhouse, in the same Upper Bradley Park where the Corn Stock tent is located, was set up as a lab theatre so it could be used as a venue to teach different aspects of theatre to its members, including experimental-type shows and locally written pieces.

It was with that in mind that Liesse wanted to fill his crew with young Corn Stock members who could use the opportunity to learn skills. His stage manager, for example, is Frank Drew, a high school senior.

“It was kind of an abstract idea that hasn’t worked perfectly because young people have so many other things going on in their lives. But overall I am pleased with how it’s all gone. I’ve enjoyed the process and I’ve learned a lot doing it,” he said.

“November” starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and on Oct. 23, 24 and 25. It starts at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. They can be purchased online at www.cornstocktheatre.com or reserved by calling (309) 676-2196.