The Broadway Review: POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
You can’t argue with a title like that. As for the women who make up this stellar cast of Broadway’s funniest comedy of the year, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, they definitely know how to keep this ruckus play going strong and rocking, delivering line after line of hilarity for us all to savor. It’s pure deliciousness, this farce about all the female staff that work together to keep the country out of trouble. They do this with aplomb, all the while babysitting the idiot that holds the highest office in the land. If only all these women who brought forth this comedy actually could run the country. We might be better off.
Playwright Selina Fillinger (“The Morning Show“; Something Clean) along with director Susan Stroman (Broadway’s The Producers; Prince of Broadway) stepping out of her traditional musical/dance roots, play it big and for laughs. But the success of POTUS is also about the brilliance of assembling pretty much the funniest gaggle of gals around. Together that really make this play go round and round, without ever giving away just where this merry-go-round is going to land. Lead by the most magnificent Julie White (Broadway’s A Doll’s House, Part 2; Gary…), she guides with confidence this stupendous team of actors; Lilli Cooper (Broadway’s Tootsie), Lea DeLaria (Broadway’s On the Town), the outstandingly funny Rachel Dratch (Public’s Privacy), Julianne Hough (“Rock of Ages“), Suzy Nakamura (Netflix’s “Dead to Me“), and the delicious Vanessa Williams (Broadway’s After Midnight; Into the Woods) giving us all the best that they have, POTUS never fails in its effort to save the world from the idiot males in charge, and to make us laugh consistently throughout the roller coaster ride they take us on. Just send in the very game Hough and her Dusty to perfectively engage and solve some inconvenient problems, and even when off the mark, she, the others, and the play deliver the goods stupendously.
Each of these wonderfully talented lady actors has been given the perfect role to wiggle into thanks to Fillinger’s delicious dedication to all those women who find themselves always playing the secondary characters to the big male domination of the world’s power structure game. They all fit so solidly in the rotating framework, delightfully designed with true British farce in mind by the illustrious Beowulf Boritt (Broadway’s Come From Away), with solid assists coming from sound designer Jessica Paz (Broadway’s Hadestown), the magnificently talented costume designer Linda Cho (Broadway’s Take Me Out), and lighting designer Sonoyo Nishikawa (STC’s Once Upon a One More Time) who is making her Broadway debut. The rooms spin, almost as fast as our head, as we try to take in every smartly stated stab by fiercely funny women devoting themselves to the insanity that is before them, namely the maintenance and upkeep of their figurehead boss, the President of the United States. And there are a lot of problems he brings unconsciously to their table.
Like the other much older comedy, “The Women“, the men that these women so dutifully swirl themselves around never actually appear on stage, albeit we do get a glimpse at the President’s legs sticking out of a compromising situation. They reside on the outskirts, even when at the center of the intense discussion. But this ensemble of high-class comedic women don’t seem to need them as much as those men need these ladies. Sacrificing their own sense of sanity and worth, these women grab hold of the essence of the modern farce and stay completely attuned to the quick rotations of the plot and set, each gifting us with cleverly orchestrated moments of hilarity and insanity.
It’s impossible not to be swept up in the manic energy, even when the plot starts to float off into absurdisms, with the incomparable and indispensable White as Harriet leading the charge. She plays the tightly wound chief of staff who is so good at her job, it is actually she who should be president. She keeps being told that truth throughout, in one of the best running gags of the show. And we completely agree and attach a lot of hope on that outcome. White magnificently vibrates like no other sending unfiltered neurotic energy out into the universe bouncing off all those around her with exacting precision, especially when aimed at the tightly wound press secretary, Jean, well-formulated by Nakamara. The antics and plot devices keep this three-ring circus rotating, escalating it all up into the rafters, as the play drives forward with an unhinged abandonment. It’s hard to single out any of these women for praise as they all deserve every ounce of our adoration, with Williams particularly killing it in earthy shoes as the president’s most fabulous wife, Margaret.
The other piece of comic supremacy, not surprisingly, lies inside the president’s sad-sack press secretary, Stephanie. Played to the heavens by Dratch, she delivers the laughs over and over and over again in a part that is accidentally ingested with conscious chemically-induced giddy fun. Making her Broadway debut, Dratch deploys some of the most fantastically creative bits in the show, showcasing great comic timing at almost every turn. She never loses her sense of humanity and wide-eyed wonder as she floats above all others as high as a kite, and as grounded as one could be.
The dimensions given to these characters inside an insanely fun farce are just as crazy to take in meaningfully as the hilarity that unfolds around them. It’s so whip-smart that way, with these women never being taken down to any ridiculously demeaning levels, which a lessor (or male-focused) writer would probably have done in an instant for a good joke or laugh. The only problem I had with this thoroughly enjoyable theatrical ride is the ending, which leans a little too hard on the reality of the world. What I really wanted was for these women to find something to celebrate for their energy and design. I wanted them to win, and maybe for White to become President. Yes. A female for President. But I guess that’s a dream that even a farce has a hard time granting to the world. Sad, because White, and really any of these brilliant women would rock that office as amazingly as they are rocking the Shubert Theatre.