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POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive

  • Theater, Comedy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Vanessa Williams and Rachel Dratch in POTUS
Photograph: Courtesy Paul KolnikPOTUS

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A starry cast lights up Selina Fillinger’s original Broadway comedy.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman

POTUS begins with a four-letter c-word, and that word isn’t can’t. The running joke of Selina Fillinger’s lightly feminist political farce—which bears the annotational subtitle Or, Behind Every Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive—is that the women who populate it are all highly capable in different ways, yet they’re stuck in the orbit of an incompetent and morally bankrupt oaf who is the world’s most powerful man. Why aren’t they in charge instead? Well: “That’s the eternal question, isn’t it?” as two characters ruefully ask. (Maybe Hillary Clinton has an answer.)

Mostly, the jokes in POTUS are less pointed. The White House setting is an excuse for a broad, zany, old-school comedy, which is a rarity on Broadway nowadays—especially in the form of a world premiere by a twentysomething woman. You can feel how hungry the spectators are to laugh together, and they get to do it often in this silly, fast-paced lark. It helps enormously that the production, directed by Susan Stroman (The Producers), is so well-cast. This ensemble makes an implicit argument of its own for female accomplishment: Even when their characters are floundering hopelessly, these ladies are pros.

POTUS | Photograph: Courtesy Paul Kolnik

The great Julie White, stage queen of the slow build, plays the Chief of Staff, a pressure cooker with her release valve rattling. Vanessa Williams—in the best performance I’ve seen her give onstage—is the poised, overqualified, undeluded First Lady, who wears hideous white Crocs because someone has told her she needs to look more “earthy.” Comic treasure Rachel Dratch, as the President’s mousy secretary, does some inspired clowning after accidentally ingesting a massive amount of drugs smuggled in by her boss’s incorrigible bulldyke-outlaw sister, played of course by Lea DeLaria. Julianne Hough is charming—especially when doing an elaborate body-clap routine—as a less-than-virginal Iowa farmgirl who shows up vomiting a blue slushie; Lilli Cooper’s nosy reporter tries to squeeze out a story while pumping out breast milk, as Suzy Nakamura’s press secretary spins herself dizzy.

The plot gets a lot less plausible in the antic second act, and Fillinger’s writing sometimes gets in the way of the farcical momentum; several scenes are too short for the stage, and there’s only so much that Beowulf Boritt’s cunningly devised set—which rotates a seemingly endless number of rooms on a turntable—can do to keep up with the pace of the cross-cutting. And since POTUS has had an unusually short preview period, not all of the physical business has had time to click perfectly into place; the blocking sometimes seems stagey, and there’s an extraneous post-bows musical sequence that should probably be cut. But POTUS works overall: It just wants to be funny, and it is, and that’s a pleasure. Today's body politic is riddled with sores. I can’t say for certain that laughter is the best medicine for that, but it sure is a welcome palliative. 

POTUS. Shubert Theatre (Broadway). By Selina Fillinger. Directed by Susan Stroman. With Julie White, Vanessa Williams, Rachel Dratch, Julianne Hough, Lea DeLaria, Suzy Nakamura, Lilli Cooper. Running time: 1hr 50mins. One intermission.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam
Follow Time Out Theater on Twitter: @TimeOutTheater
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POTUS | Photograph: Courtesy Paul Kolnik

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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