An actor — I won't say which one — once told me that Joe Adler doesn't write down notes on blocking. This is true. Last Saturday, as the crew at GableStage headed into the final week of preparations for David Mamet's new presidential comedy, November, the actors couldn't quite keep themselves from commenting about the director's lapse, despite the presence of a theater critic with a tape recorder.
"No, no," said Adler to actress Stacy Schwartz, who plays a lesbian speechwriter with a cold, after she crossed the Oval Office to pat the president's back. "You don't cross there."
She smiled — Schwartz has a lovely smile — and muttered, "Oh, today we don't cross here." This happened several times in the next 20 minutes, and each time the smile was a little less convincing.
i>November: Written by David Mamet. Directed by Joe Adler. With David Kwiat, Stacy Schwartz, Wayne LeGette, David Corey, and Kevin Reilly. Through November 16. GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1119, www.gablestage.org
It's probably just that Adler has too much on his mind. He is the grand old lion of South Florida theater. Nobody donates so much money to the arts, helps out so many fledgling theater companies, or is as vocally committed to ensuring real, serious plays are produced in the tri-county area. And nobody does a preshow announcement like Adler, who can never resist sharing his vast civic rage with an audience.
Adler can't talk enough about politics, which is why he's doing November, a play about a goofy, incompetent prez at the ugly end of his first term. It's timely, topical, and a fabulous opportunity to mock a political scene that, by November 5, will look nothing like it does now.
I dragged Adler outside for a minute to talk about the play. Here is what he said.
Brandon K. Thorp: November got mixed reviews when it premiered in Manhattan this spring. Why is that?
Joe Adler: You know how easy it is to take shots at plays like this, that take shots at what's going on right now — contemporary mores, contemporary politics, contemporary issues. It's not hard to do that.
It's easy to screw up a commentary play.
It is! It's very easy. But you know, I don't think this is a play that pushes any particular agenda. You're never clear whether we're talking here about a Republican president or a Democratic president. This is about the stupidity — the cupidity, if you will — of so many of the things that are going on in our country right now.
Is that what you look for in a good political play? Ambiguity?
I think there's some of that — ambiguity — but I like this because I think it skewers the people who are rooted in certain beliefs, that are passé, over the hill. Do you remember the wonderful days when there were politicians who would be ... the vanguard of helping us move in new directions?
Well, no. I'm 25.
Right! But there was a time when they realized that their responsibility was to move us ahead, to [provide] forward thinking, new thinking, new ideas. Now they're behind the curve. And this is about a politician who is distinctly behind the curve.
Behind-the-curve ideas really bother you, huh?
Oh, absolutely. Well, look at today's paper. Just today, Connecticut just legalized gay marriage. And we've got a vote going on in this state, in this next election in November, to pass an amendment that says gay marriage is illegal. Now what is that about? [And] I am enormously, enormously upset that this country doesn't come up with the money for education, doesn't come up with the money for healthcare, doesn't come up with the money for so many things that are important. It's just not there; we don't have it in the budget. But then — all of a sudden — we need $700 billion to bail out Wall Street, and it's suddenly there. Where does it come from?
Well then borrow some fucking money for the schools! Borrow some money for healthcare! That's my point. They borrowed some money for war — we have trillions of dollars for an unnecessary war.... If Al Gore had served as president, and [the current administration had] not started an unnecessary war, we could have taken that surplus, and right now we might have healthcare. We might have better education. This deficit wouldn't exist. All these problems wouldn't have happened.
You always pepper your preshow remarks with timely and topical commentary. Is that entirely safe?
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We are a 501(c)(3), and we're not allowed to endorse any candidacy or take a position for any party. But that doesn't mean we can't take positions that, I think, are directly related to constitutional rights, First Amendment rights. So a lot of times when I'm speaking out, it isn't because I'm necessarily saying right, left, conservative, liberal. I see things happening that, I think, both parties should be opposed to.
Like, for instance, what's going on in the city, in Miami-Dade County, with all the cutbacks in education. I don't think people on one side or the other feel differently about that. I think we all [disapprove of the fact] that our schools' budgets are being cut. And by the way, this affects the arts programs as much as anything else.
We've played to a million students in Miami-Dade County over the years — about 40,000 every year. We bring a Shakespeare play to the schools, and we bring the schools to see one of the plays on our main stage. And there has always been financial support for this coming from the Miami-Dade school board. This year, that was eliminated.
So we're going ahead with this program anyway. As a matter of fact, we're starting the tour of Macbeth in about three weeks. And we're doing without the school board's financing. We're gonna find that money, because we don't believe that's a program we can abandon. We'll get the money. Because if that program is cut, this is going to have a serious impact on all arts groups in the years to come. I mean, this is our audience for the future, and not just theater — museums, opera, concert halls, the ballet. Who's going to go, if these kids don't get into the habit of attending now? So I just have to believe that the money will appear when we need it. It always has before.