‘Potus,’ A High Octaine Farce With Riotous Performances by Rachel Dratch, Vanessa Williams, Lilli Cooper, Lea DeLaria, Suzy Nakamura, Julie White, Julianne Hough
Posted by caroleditosti
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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?
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 (???).
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/