Blog Archives

‘Potus,’ A High Octaine Farce With Riotous Performances by Rachel Dratch, Vanessa Williams, Lilli Cooper, Lea DeLaria, Suzy Nakamura, Julie White, Julianne Hough

(L to R): Julie White, Suzy Nakamura in POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

POTUS: or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive is a laugh riot, pants wetter that begins from the moment the lights dim in the audience. Writer Selina Fillinger turns every political meme on its silly and dangerous head as award winning director Susan Stroman shepherds her superb cast for maximum rollicking humor that doesn’t quit. Of course, there is a point to this brilliantly “mad” production, currently running at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. The theme? WWWD?

(L to R): Vanessa Williams and Julie White POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

In other words, “What Would Women Do,” if they ran the country? Well, it turns out in the play, they do! However, because they are not the president, they don’t receive credit for making the big man look good while taking the flak from what he has managed to botch or not do at all. White men of both political parties pay billions of dollars to make sure that women aren’t presidents. BILLIONS. It makes one think, does it not? What are white men on that they are willing to spend BILLIONS to prevent women taking the highest office in the land? Has there been a time in US History when both political parties had women candidates running against each other for the presidency? POTUS suggests it’s about time.

Lilli Cooper, POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

The theme gradually expands and is framed as a question by various female characters in this profoundly funny black comedy. As the events whip by in Fillinger’s ebullient and raucous two act play, they reveal that without his women as his right and left arms, this particularly lame president, who could double for a former president whose last name begins with “T,” would be up sh*t’s creek without a paddle, plunging over a sewage waterfall to his sludgy demise. Do they enable him? It’s one way to look at it. Another is they will never have any chance at all to be in the man’s world without doing what they do. Without a penis, their vaginas bar them for as long as men decide. That is the fleshy point!

(L to R): Rachel Dratch and Julie White POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

The farce which sends up various former presidents we’ve had (to be fair Republican presidents, because Republicans are never fair), moves at the speed of light for pacing, quips, one-liners and thrust and parries that make absolute sense. So does the gyrating plot which moves from mountain top to mountain top until you are so elevated, you can’t breathe for the belly laughs.

(L to R): Lilli Cooper, Rachel Dratch, Vanessa Williams in POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

With a cast of seven (all award winners), and an intricate set (Beowulf Boritt), of well appointed rooms spinning on a turn table that reflects areas in the White House, we happily spend time with the females, including a pilot fish reporter. Most of them are highly efficient, talented geniuses who make POTUS pop and generally keep him and the country together. This is a feat considering that “the servant of the people” is a ninny incompetent who is a firestarter, and the women must be at the ready to contain his blazes like advanced technically able forest rangers.

(L to R): Suzy Nakamura, Julianne Hough, and Lea DeLaria in POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

The frolic represents a day in the life of the women of POTUS and a few hangers on like his wife, sister and a “has-been” reporter “in” with the press secretary. These marvelous women include his chief of staff Harriet (Julie White), press secretary Jean, (Suzy Nakamura), secretary Stephanie (Rachel Dratch), his dalliance Dusty (Julianne Hough), his sister Bernadette (Lea DeLaria), slick journalist Chris (Lilli Cooper) and his wife Margaret (Vanessa Williams). All of them are beyond capable and the actresses are a prodigious, laugh a second team.

With frenzy these “wonder women” “keep the balls in the air” for the presidential apotheosis and get him through his day of discussions, briefings, handshakes with physically challenged vets, and a meeting with foreign dignitaries about nuclear non-proliferation treaties. After these events, POTUS is just in time for the FLM (Female Models of Leadership), dinner as icing on his evening cake. Through all these, we witness the machinations these fabulous women spin behind the scenes, but never see the president in action.

In fact, not one male is present on the Schubert stage. How quaint! Considering the few females proportionate to males in the theater world (even female critics), this is quite a lovely step in the right direction.

Vanessa Williams in POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

After an explosive fight in which his wife tells him “to stop acting like his father, grow a pair and get his anal cyst removed without anesthesia,” which we hear about, POTUS publicly states the First Lady is absent from a gathering because she is having a “cunty morning.” “Cunt” is the first word that is spoken by Julie White’s Harriet at the top of the play, as she relates to press secretary Jean POTUS’ public cruelty. It is at the heart of the play’s themes and a remark that sets the media world on fire. Indeed, in POTUS’ world, women don’t count except as utilitarian sex objects; if they are salient, they are “cunts.”

Though we laugh as the correction machine starts to turn and hell breaks loose in the kingdom, the point hits home. Subsequently, one “cunty” event happens after another on this average day at the White House with an invisible POTUS and the women front and center who must suck it up and smile, making the badies go away.

The cast of POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

We get to meet Ratchel Dratch’s insecure press secretary Stephanie who is learning physical power confidence and taking her own space, employing full body postures to block Margaret, the First Lady, from going in to give her husband “what for.” Margaret’s edgy, dark insults fly at Stephanie intentionally “behind her back,” while Stephanie is in the room suffering Margaret’s fury and accomplishing her job impeccably. Of course, Margaret believes her role as wife takes precedence over her role as First Lady. However, Harriet and Stephanie prove that is true only up to a point. They prevent the first couple seeing each other (not that they ever do), and block her like linebackers with words and actions.

Potus’ packed schedule doesn’t warrant a discussion with the always fuming Margaret, and he obviously has told Harriet to keep her at bay. However, the First Lady has gravitas and can help smooth the situation which is crassly getting out of hand, inflamed by the media. Allowed to fester like a pustule, his public insult in front of diplomats causes a growing international kerfuffle. Interestingly, “I’m sorry” is not in his vocabulary.

The cast of POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

The snoopy reporter Chris (Lilli Cooper), who makes herself comfortable in press secretary Jean’s office, milks the situation for all its worth. It’s a meme; she has twins; a milking machine attached to her breasts gathers breast milk in plastic bags, while she collects the latest juicy gossip about how Margaret handles the president’s “cunty” remark. Interestingly, the comment explodes the offensive meter with countries like Bahrain, who think that the scurrilous reference inferring the First Lady’s female genetalia is nasty and disturbing.

Nevertheless, in the world of power plays and reelections, offense at this remark is a legitimate way to leverage its relationship with POTUS’ administration. Of course Bahrain’s allies and allies of allies all pile on. None of this we see; we only view the frenetic and LOL behavior of the President’s female clean up squad, who must ironically blow by the gender insult to them, as if it is “nothing.”

Suzy Nakamura, POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

The situation only worsens when Stephanie stumbles upon the very attractive Dusty (Julianne Hough), armed with a security badge, as she floats around the White House looking for the president to discuss their shared secret which makes her vomit. Dratch’s Stephanie freaks. She believes Dusty is her replacement. Throughout Dratch as Stephanie ups the laughs with her spot-on, completely organic reactions to Dusty and the increasingly wild situations. With acumen, press secretary Jean discovers Dusty is a POTUS dalliance that Harriet has scheduled to speak to the president under Harriet’s advisement. Dusty, a wealthy farmer’s daughter, wants a deal with POTUS about seed planting, leveraging something she carries, and making public statements.

The breaking point thrills when POTUS’ sister Bernadette (Lea DeLaria delivers some of the best lines), arrives at the White House to have her brother pardon her convictions for drug crimes. Of course, this will be over Margaret’s dead body, Harriet’s attempts to compromise, and Jean’s attempt to suppress her passion for their former love. The chaos converges and Stroman with the rocket launch of Fillinger’s present, zany, crazy-hysterical script sends us to the heavens and then the depths, when, at the end of Act I, it looks like POTUS is quite dead and requires a body double. Is the former president anywhere to be found?

(L to R): Julianne Hough, Lea Delaria and Suzy Nakamura in POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

There is no spoiler alert. So much of the wonder of Stroman, the fabulous comedians, the salient crackling script is in each “scene” which must be seen and not read about here. I can’t recommend POTUS enough. This is especially so if you need to laugh feverishly, hysterically, manically, in the face of the ongoing viral plague, freak weather events, Trump Capitol insurrection permissiveness by a Republican (?) DOJ, 2 trillion in Republican tax breaks for billionaires and Putin’s war genociding women and children in Ukraine which Republican apologists like Rand Paul appear to support (???).

Julie White in POTUS, directed by Susan Stroman, written by Selina Fillinger (Photo by ©Paul Kolnik)

Humor and laughter in the midst of darkness helps us get to the next day. The heroic President of Ukraine Volodomyr Zelenskyy reminds the “free world” what courage it takes to be independent of one-man rulers like despot/genocidist Putin who channels Stalin’s extermination of Ukrainians in the Holodomor of 1932-33. That Zelenskyy is a brilliant artist, comedian, producer (Studio Kvartal-95), who rose to become a figurative and literal “Servant of the People,” reveals the importance of laughter and comedy as a foundation to confront trauma and tragedy.

Thus, for non-billionaires and the little people with little, Stroman, these wonderful actors and genius writing by Fillinger are worth their weight in gold. Final kudos go to Sonoyo Nishikawa (lighting design), Jessica Paz (sound design), Linda Cho (costume design), all of which help to make this wondrously absurdist delight the still point in time that you must see, especially if you are a straight white guy who is “macho” enough to handle it. All others in the family of human beings will appreciate it.

POTUS is the “MAX,” especially now in this political season where everything is at the hazard. For tickets and times go to their website: https://potusbway.com/

‘Gary,’ With Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielsen, Julie White, Bringing You Tears in Laughter

Nathan Lane, Gary, Taylor Mac, George C. Wolf, Boothe Theatre

Nathan Lane in ‘Gary,’ written by Taylor Mac, directed by George C. Wolf at the Boothe Theatre (Julieta Cervantes)

Gary by Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama, Taylor Mac and directed by the prodigiously talented George C. Wolfe is WACK! (translation: cosmically brilliant, riotous, sardonic in dark and light) This uproarious “Sequel to Titus Andronicus” (Shakespeare’s first and bloodiest tragedy) is a brutal, intense, intimate play about body parts and indelicate body processes we don’t discuss in polite conversation with The Queen. Rich in themes and characterizations with a clever, twisty plot that surprises, it is also about much more.

To give us a handle in how to approach the mood and tenor of Gary, Carol (the sensational Julie White) comes in front of the once glorious, now shabby curtain and addresses the audience in Shakespeare’s favorite verse, rhyming iambic couplets. As Carol validates the how/why that Titus Androicus deserves a sequel, suddenly she spurts blood from a hole where her throat has been slit during the roiling events of the former play.

The absurdity of her discussion about a sequel that is more craven with gore than the original (while spurting blood) is titanically ironic and bounteously funny! Already, the playwright has set the mood and tenor between the horrific and rambunctious, as Carol’s unsuccessful attempts to stem the red flux poises the audience on a balance beam of tragedy and comedy. If this is the first of the production’s many moments of shock and awesomeness, we’re in for the long and the short of it. Let the rollicking fun begin!

Kristine Nielsen, Nathan Lane, Gary, George C. Wolf, Taylor Mac

Kristine Nielsen, Nathan Lane in ‘Gary,’ directed by George C. Wolf, written by Taylor Mac (Julieta Cervantes)

Conceivably, after every holocaust of war and massacre, someone has to clean up and set things “straight” again. In her wobbly, blood draining state, Carol brings up the curtain to reveal the debacle of bloodshed at the conclusion of Titus Andronicus. Then she totters off to bleed to death. The mounds and mounds of bodies piled up from the coup are staggering. There is one central mound of bodies to be processed, another pile of processed bodies and another under a sheet. Thanks to Santo Loquasto’s scenic design, everywhere you look there is the attempt to organize rotting flesh in the Roman banquet hall that is a temporary storage place of the dead. These number among them rich and poor, wealthy elites, citizens, officials, soldiers, rulers and others swept up in fierce fighting, civil war, apocalypse. Death does not discriminate.

The feast of death poetically will slide into a feast of celebration, for in a day, the hall will be the site of the new Emperor’s inauguration, another power transition. Into this macabre scene comes Gary (the incredible Nathan Lane who is a riot beyond description) a former clown who juggled live pigeons to little acclaim and no success. Things are looking up for Gary; he has a new job as a servant for the court. But what a job!

Having escaped a near death experience at the executioner’s hand by a lightening stroke of genius, Gary ends up in the hall for he told the executioner he would  help tidy up the catastrophe of gore by doing maid service. Little does he realize what cleaning up corpses entails, and when head maid Janice (the magnificent, moment-to-moment Kristine Nielsen) begins to show him, he recoils, reconsiders his choice and redirects his “ingenuity” in a different direction. He will not stay there long; he will rise up and go beyond maid service. He will become a Fool, the wisest of the Emperor’s counsel.

Nathan Lane, Gary, George C. Wolf, Taylor Mac

Nathan Lane in ‘Gary,’ directed by George C. Wolf, written by Taylor Mac (Julieta Cervantes)

Meanwhile, Janice must teach loafer Gary the tricks of death’s work in the flesh. Grand experience has inured her to dealing with corpses, for she’s been cleaning up after each of the Roman wars for a long time. And Rome has been battling for decades. As Janice instructs Gary in “cleaning,” her fiendish efficiency at pummeling the gas out of the bodies to extract their farts is Nielsen at her hysterical best. Her antic machinations are real and horrifyingly, and equally LOL humorous, as she drains noxious body fluids showing Gary the difference between siphoning out the blood, and pushing out the poo. Lane’s Gary is priceless in his response to Nielsen’s Janice. The two actors are the perfect counterparts to make us roll in the aisles at their irreverence and seriousness.

From the outset, we understand Mac’s themes of class elitism and domination as the two maids disagree, fight and create their own rank to dominate, even as ridiculous as it is to fight over lead maid and subordinate. From the characters’ quips, jibes, demands, insults and resistances, we learn how beaten down the lower classes are through these prototypical plebeians who are the invisible, the disposable. But then again their disagreement if given latitude may rise to add their corpses to the pile and who then would be left to clean up the mess? The human condition to power over others defies class. There must be something better than this!

Though recovery from his near death experience sent him to a place of hell and damnation with Janice presiding as head monster maid, Gary holds to his enlightened state. He considers; maybe he can save the world and make it better, to stem the tide of wars and bloodshed. His revelation spurs him to attempt to convert Janice to his cause and show her there is something better in life than pumping poo and expelling gas from cadavers.

Julie White, Gary, Taylor Mac, George C. Wolf

Julie White in ‘Gary,’ written by Taylor Mac, directed by George C. Wolf (Julieta Cervantes)

But Nielsen’s Janice is an incontrovertible martinet. What’s worse is she’s excellent at her job. She actually takes pride in her efficiency and refuses to revolt against the current social “order” or rise above it. She eschews and belittles Gary’s ambitions. She is insistent about keeping her place at the bottom of the social strata so she can stay alive even if she is a fart expeller. But as Gary questions the “life” she is leading, his presence and argumentative logic wear her down. As she processes the bodies and argues and commands Gary, she erupts with aphorisms and sage comments indicating that perhaps there is a shaking going on in her soul. Perhaps dealing with death has made her wise after all and prone to hope as well.

Carol shocks Gary and Janice joining the scene, having survived bleeding to death in a second near death experience to match Gary’s. She adds to the hilarity by confessing her “sin” that she missed an opportunity to save a life. With distraught fervor, White’s Carol cries out a refrain of her “sin” at pointed moments during the conversation with Janice and Gary. Each time she erupts in a whining cry (no SPOILER ALERT, SEE THE PLAY) she is marvelously, brilliantly funny. And yet, we feel for her and “know” we would not have behaved so cruelly and cowardly as she did. (NOT!) But she, too, can be inspired to change.

White, Lane and Nielsen send up his extraordinary satire on death and the tragedy of the human condition to fear, hate, revenge and murder. And finally, they do what Gary persuades them to, with Janice convinced of the rightness of his enlightened suggestions.  The characters create an “artistic coup” and turn the tragedy of humanity (in Titus Andronicus) into an absurd comedy sequel, where the audience laughs at itself and reverses the cycle of hatred, killing and violence.

Nathan Lane, Kristine, Nielsen, Gary, George C. Wolf, Taylor Mac

Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielsen in ‘Gary,’ directed by George C. Wolf, written by Taylor Mac (Julieta Cervantes)

Indeed, Mac and Gary parallel in their intentions, as Gary states in creating his artistic coup, that it’s an “onslaught of ingenuity that’s a transformation of the calamity we got here. A sort of theatrical revenge on the Andronicus revenge.” Thus, this ‘Sequel to Titus Andronicus’ is a comedy bubbling up from a tragedy and the production ends with hope sparked from a clown and mid-wife who had a second chance at life to encourage a maid who was enduring a living death.

Though the pallid, fake, pokey corpses are stripped or dressed as Romans and the setting is in the latter days of the Roman Empire, Mac’s message is clear. This is us! This is now! The more ridiculous-looking and absurd the “cadavers” appear, the more death and war hover in the “unreality” of the piles of staged dummy corpses. In displaying the morbidity of violent effects, the production is precisely pacifist. But it is also a “Fooling.” So…interpret as you will.

Mac, with acute, dark wit creates his new Mac-genre-“Fooling” and reminds us how we “play” with our own mortality and that of others by taking our lives for granted. As invisible as one may feel in light of the culture’s social and political corruptions, there is always hope. There is always something one may do to rise above and use one’s genius to help others. The fact that Gary plans an “artistic revolt” to convert tragedy into comedy suits for our time.

Kristine Nielsen, Gary, George C. Wolf, Taylor Mac

Kristine Nielsen in ‘Gary,’ directed by George C. Wolf, written by Taylor Mac (Julieta Cervantes)

The production rises to the heavens buoyed up by the fabulous talents of acting giants Nielsen, Lane and White shepherded by the superb Wolf. I could write volumes about this work and the humane, sensitive and completely organic performances by Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielsen and Julie White that are “over-the-top” impeccable. I cannot imagine anyone else in their hyper-hilarious, exhaustive, and energetic portrayals.

Wolf and the artistic team display the playwright’s vision and sound the alarm with energetic gusto. Can we luxuriate in continued economic class struggles, power dominations which set up the inequities between the rulers and the  ruled? Why must the “inconsequential” and “invisible” under classes continuously put up with what their “betters” have wrought to satisfy their own lusts, while destroying most everyone else and above all themselves in the process? It is a wasted institutional genocide that no one escapes. Are we not better than this? The characters try to prove they are. Bravo to the actors for bringing them to loving life.

This production is profound. Its humor is beyond hysterical, of the type that makes you laugh through your tears, and cry laughing. Its loving stroke will blind you and make you see again. In its irreverence, cataclysmic indifference about the dead, and twitting of the frailties of humanity’s proclivity to murder, exact revenge and make war, it is an indictment of the “upper” classes (the audience is mentioned as part of the court) and vindication of the lower classes who put up with them. In short it is irreverently ingenious. Every arrogant, billionaire narcissist should see this “Fooling.”

Kudos to Santo Loquasto (Scenic Design) Ann Roth (Costume Design) Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Design) Dan Moses Schreier (Sound Design).

Gary runs without an intermission at the Boothe Theatre (222 West 45th Street) until 4 August.  For times and tickets go to the website by CLICKING HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: