Workplace comedies have been a staple of network television from “The Office” to “Superstore,” and the small screen has already given us an inside view of the White House in everything from “The West Wing” to “Veep.” So, admittedly Selina Fillinger’s outrageous – and often outrageously funny comedy -- “POTUS,” now at the Shubert Theatre, does cover some familiar ground.
Still, a show with this much constant swearing, onstage vomit, and the frequent use of the term “rough assplay” is certainly like nothing currently on Broadway – even in a season with a David Mamet revival five blocks away! And while such vulgarity may turn some theatergoers off, it will send many others (such as myself) into frequent fits of unbridled laughter. |
Further, even the show’s naysayers will have to admit that “POTUS” breaks its own glass ceiling in focusing on seven very different women, each one portrayed to sheer perfection by seven super-talented women, who are unexpectedly forced to come together to help “save” a sexist, oafish U.S. president without whom the country would likely be better off.
Sure, these ladies bicker, verbally degrade and even physically assault each other; but they also realize, as the play’s subtitle tells us, that behind every great dumbass are seven women trying to keep him alive.” And, sadly, in America, that’s essentially their job. As is frequently asked, “why can’t a woman be president?” as if we haven’t already learned the answer!
At first, these women are trying to simply keep said dumbass alive politically after he crudely insults his wife Margaret (an elegant, hyper-intelligent and appropriately bitchy Vanessa Williams) and causes a diplomatic uproar. By the show’s far-less-plausible second half, the subtitle is taken literally as the (unseen) POTUS appears to have died on a day full of important speeches, major endorsements and even a “FML” gala, planned by his super-efficient, ultra-frazzled and ever-so-slightly clueless chief of staff Harriet (a reliably hilarious Julie White).
Alas, if that’s all the hyper-competent Harriet and Margaret had to deal with, that would be enough. But there’s also the constant presence of just-about-to-lose-it press secretary Jean (a splendid Suzy Nakumara); frustrated White House reporter Chris (a convincing Lilli Cooper), the president’s about-to-be paroled, drug-dealing, butch lesbian sister Bernadette (Lea DeLaria delivering the goods as expected); the president’s pregnant, not-so-dumb “prostitot” Dusty (the multi-talented Julianne Hough); and insecure presidential secretary Stephanie (a hysterically over-the-top Rachel Dratch) whose “reaction” to too many “Tums” truly has to be seen to be believed.
That these women all put aside their differences for the common good might be fantasy or it might be reality. But, here, it is definitely farce, thanks to the assured direction of Tony winner Susan Stroman, who essentially choreographs these women (each dressed perfectly by Linda Cho) while they navigate Beowulf Borrit’s constantly resolving set of White House rooms.
After a while, their heads will be spinning. And so might yours.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Lilli Cooper, Lea DeLaria, Rachel Dratch, Julianne Hough, Suzy Nakamura, Julie White, Vanessa Williams
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