Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

POTUS Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 27, 2022

POTUS by Selina Fillinger. Directed by Susan Stroman. Scenic design by Beowulf Boritt. Costume design by Linda Cho. Lighting design by Sonoyo Nishikawa . Sound design by Jessica Paz. Hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan. Fight and intimacy director Rocio Mendez. Make-up design by Kirk Cambridge-Del Pesche Associate director Leah Hofmann.
Cast: Lilli Cooper, Lea DeLaria, Rachel Dratch, Julianne Hough, Suzy Nakamura, Julie White, and Vanessa Williams.
Theater: Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

Rachel Dratch and Julie White
Photo by Paul Kolnik
You truly have not lived until you have experienced the sight of a drugged-out Rachel Dratch running around a theater, her face covered in smears of blood, wearing a pink inner tube, and draped in the American flag. For that sight, you will have to get yourself over to the Shubert Theatre, where POTUS, or, to go by its full title, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, opened today.

Dratch, the Second City and "Saturday Night Live" alumna, is an absolute gem in this exceptionally over-the-top romp of a play by Selina Fillinger. It is billed as a farce, but, really, it is more of an out-and-out slapstick comedy that taps into a mother lode of zaniness in a septet of wonderful actresses, gleefully directed by Susan Stroman. The others are Lilli Cooper, Lea DeLaria, Julianna Hough, Suzy Nakamura, Julie White, and Vanessa Williams. The script itself calls for a cast of women who are "fast, fierce, and fucking hilarious." Suffice it to say, these women are primed to deliver on that job description, throwing themselves into their performances as if they were on crystal meth.

The plot, such as it is and until it devolves into a glorious free-for-all, concerns the increasingly challenging demands on a half dozen women on the White House staff who spend most of their time cleaning up the many messes of the President of the United States. (The seventh, played by Julianne Hough, is an outsider who joins them later). You can decide for yourself which president or presidents served as the model; a recent one comes to mind, but, truly, there are lots of "great dumbasses" to choose from.

POTUS begins a high note. Or make that a shrieking one. It is a single word yelled by Harriet (Julie White), the president's chief of staff, at Suzy Nakamura's character Jean, his press secretary. To repeat that word here would be a spoiler, but let's just say it would be an unexpected first line in any play. Not the first time POTUS has stuffed his foot in his mouth, but the spin required to put this one to rest would need to tap into the power of a nuclear centrifuge.

As if this weren't enough, onto the scene strolls a perky young woman (Hough, impressively multi-talented), called Dusty; lots of silly jokes will be made around that name. She says she is looking for POTUS. No one knows who she is, how she got into the West Wing, or what to do with her now that she's there. And anyway, they are all too busy with their latest crisis to bother. Until she starts to vomit gallons of blue liquid, that is. This gets everyone's attention, all the more so when she announces that she is pregnant. And three guesses who the father is, an assertion that when Dusty makes it, no one doubts it to be true. They know their POTUS.

Suzy Nakamura, Lea DeLaria, and Julianne Hough
Photo by Paul Kolnik
By now, the rest of the cast members are on the scene. These include Vanessa Williams as Margaret, the First Lady (who knew Williams had such a propensity for physical comedy?), and Lea DeLaria as Bernadette, POTUS's off-the-wall sister. Bernadette is on a twenty-four-hour temporary release from prison, with the expectation that POTUS will issue a pardon within that time period. Her crime? Dealing drugs. Lots of them. Often to White House staff and members of Congress.

Also on hand is Stephanie (Dratch), POTUS's secretary, who is in over her head and clueless most of the time, but who somehow manages to defuse an international crisis before flouncing off in her precious inner tube outfit. Finally, to further stir the soup, there is a member of the White House press corps, Chris (Lilli Cooper), whom we mostly see brandishing a pair of breast pumps while she is going about her business. Chris is there ostensibly to interview the First Lady for a puff piece, but she gets wind of the bigger story and intends to get to the bottom of it in order to bolster her sagging career. Put all of these characters in one room, and you've got an explosion of manic comedy.

I said earlier, POTUS is more of a rowdy slapstick comedy than it is a farce, but certainly there is a lot of farce-like running in and out of doors, thanks to Beowulf Boritt's cleverly designed revolving set, which allows for quick moves across multiple offices, storage areas, and a women's restroom (with its coin-operated tampon dispenser on display) that becomes a significant locale. Dratch's character does a lot of the running, especially when she gets hold of some of Bernadette's drugs and, thinking they are TUMS, chomps down a handful.

Thanks to the cast and the director, POTUS is close to two hours of non-stop mayhem. All that would seem to be missing is a pile of custard pies. Yet beneath it all, there is a deeper message about the subordinate role of women in what is essentially a man's world. People like Harriet, the hardworking chief of staff, and Jean, the press secretary, understand all too well what it takes to keep POTUS propped up. And Chris, a new mother, has to watch as her news outfit sends in a guy to take over the big story she is working on. But through what has become a united front, the play's seven women decide it is time for all of this to end. Julie White makes this abundantly clear in her final words that repurpose the play's opening shout to a determined new cause.