Regional Reviews: Boston
POTUS is most definitely a story for our time as it centers on a talented group of women scrambling to clean up the scandals and messes created by a doofus of an inept, crass, sexually inappropriate President. The setting is The White House and Jenna McFarland Lord's (scenic design) use of out of kilter lines and disjointed sections of walls is a great metaphor for the chaos which ensues. It is natural to assume that the elephant in the room, the POTUS, who is not a flesh-and-blood character in the play, is the former guy who refuses to leave the world stage. However, the playwright makes it clear that her target is not an individual, but rather the White Patriarchy which pervades all political parties.
An oft-repeated question in the play is "Why isn't SHE president?," and the seven women possess skills that might qualify them if circumstances allowed. Harriet (Lisa Yuen) is the Chief of Staff who plots with Press Secretary Jean (Laura Latreille) to avert a global crisis. In the opening scene, they butt heads and yell a lot, conveying the high stakes of the latest scandal in which POTUS used a very nasty term to describe his wife Margaret (Crystin Gilmore). For her part, FLOTUS is pretty much done with her spouse, but joins forces with the distaff crew when a cover-up seems in order.
Adding to the mayhem are the misguided Stephanie (Marianna Bassham), the secretary who uses her body to block the door while trying to protect the sanctity of the Oval Office; Chris (Catia), a breast-pumping journalist looking for a juicy story; Dusty (Monique Ward Lonergan), the prez's pregnant young paramour; and presidential sibling Bernadette (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda), recently released from prison with an ankle bracelet and angling for a pardon. Their conflicting agendas notwithstanding, when the action of one places them all in jeopardy and the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, they spring into a unified force to save their own necks and hopefully serve their country at the same time.
Each of the actors finds the core of her character and clearly displays who she is, from Yuen's intelligent but high-strung Chief, to Latreille's woman on a mission to spin everything. Gilmore makes us believe that her character believes she should be the president, while Lonergan does a great job of camouflaging Dusty's intelligence inside a plethora of seemingly inane comments and energetic twerks. Carlisle-Zepeda expands Bernadette from an opportunistic, drug-pushing con with a wink and a nod, surprising her compatriots with some hidden abilities. Catia imbues Chris with feisty smarts, showing that she is not to be trifled with.
As much as everyone adds to the cohesiveness of the ensemble, Bassham makes the greatest contribution with her ability to separate herself from the main action and do her own thing in the background and on the perimeter when Stephanie mistakenly ingests some mind-altering substance she finds in Bernadette's bag of tricks. Without uttering a word, she captures the attention of the audience as she virtually floats around the stage and we wonder what she will do next.
POTUS is both farce and satire, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous until you realize that some of the story seems way too familiar. The political age in which we live delivers us news and events by fire hose, drowning us in one thing after another. Whether or not it was Fillinger's intention, her play does the same thing on a smaller scale, but the constant fever pitch takes away from the ability to swallow whatever nuance there might be. I like a play to have ebb and flow, but this is almost entirely flow. To the credit of all involved, they're up to the task of maintaining the pace without flagging, but it was hard to savor any one moment until the final words were spoken. Cue mic drop.
POTUS runs through October 15, 2023, at SpeakEasy Stage at Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston MA. For tickets and information, please visit SpeakEasyStage.com or call 617-933-8600.
Written by Selina Fillinger, Directed by Paula Plum; Scenic Design, Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Design, Rebecca Glick; Lighting Design, Karen Perlow; Sound Design, Aubrey Dube; Fight & Intimacy Choreography by Angie Jepson; Production Stage Manager, Lauren J. Burke; Assistant Stage Manager, Kendyl Trott
Cast (in alphabetical order): Marianna Bassham, Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda, Catia, Crystin Gilmore, Laura Latreille, Monique Ward Lonergan, Lisa Yuen