Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot is fairly simple. When the President uses a curse word that very few feel comfortable saying in reference to his wife and in the presence of visiting politicians, it sets his Chief of Staff Harriet (Shari Watts) and Press Secretary Jean (Dolores Mendoza) into crisis mode in order to tamp down the fire he caused since there are important diplomatic meetings taking place that day. It also sets off a chain reaction of humorous events that include First Lady Margaret (Lydia Corbin), the President's secretary Stephanie (Emily Mohney), his mistress Dusty (Alison Campbell), his ex-convict drug-dealing sister Bernadette (Lauren McKay), and Chris (Deatra Branston), a reporter.
The script is funny and the characters, while somewhat stereotypical, are all interesting, strong, and opinionated women. However, while there are numerous times the characters mention how one of them is so qualified that they should be president, Fillinger never truly digs deeper into that idea and only grazes the surface of the topic. Also, several of the women are quite demeaning to each other, which doesn't exactly make their characteristics any better than the negative attributes of the male characters they talk about. The first scene makes it appear that we are about to get a biting satirical commentary on American politics and the impact it has on the many smart and competent women who are called upon to clean up the messes made by the incompetent men they support, but instead it's not much more than a somewhat humorous comedy about office politics, with a few crude jokes and a lot of profanity.
Director Katie McFadzen instills the farcical production with an appropriately over-the-top pace with larger-than-life portrayals from her cast, but some of the comical lines are said so fast you might miss them, along with the jokes they set up. At the performance I attended there was also a few instances when the cast weren't projecting loud enough, so other lines were lost as well. The creative elements are good, including the smart static set design by Tiana Torrilhon-Wood and her effective use of projections to swiftly change from one location to the next, but the fight choreography by Rachelle Dart is neither realistic nor comical and some of the cast look uncomfortable during the fight scenes.
The cast are all pretty good, with Mendoza being great as the harried press secretary, Corbin strong as the no-nonsense First Lady, McKay hilarious as the drug-dealing sister, Mohney fun as the meek secretary, Campbell bright as the kooky girlfriend, Branston forceful as the reporter, and Watts appropriately stressed as the chief of staff. As good as the cast is, and many have appeared in numerous shows in theaters across the Valley, the ages of some appear to be slightly off from what we are told about their characters, especially Mohney, whose character is called a "menopausal toddler."
While I wish Fillinger's script were more sophisticated and offered a finely tuned and biting exploration of the highest office in the land, as it appears at first to be launching into, you can't blame Stray Cat for the shortcomings in the script. The cast is good and it's always nice to see women in strong parts. So, if you're looking for an amusing political comedy with strong female characters and several humorously crude moments, you'll most likely have a good time at POTUS. For those wanting more, you'll most likely see it as a fairly predictable comedy that plays up the absurdity of American politics.
POTUS runs through December 16, 2023, by Stray Cat Theatre at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please call 480-227-1766 or visit straycattheatre.org.
Director: Katie McFadzen