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POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive tells you what it is: a farce. But this new play boasting a megawatt cast, including Julie White, Vanessa Williams, Rachel Dratch, and Lea DeLaria, seems to have taken a swallow of the very male toxicity it pokes fun at.
No Tea, No Shade:
Plays written by women, directed by women, and starring women are rare — if not non-existent, making POTUS a unicorn on Broadway.
But POTUS is not a high-minded beast. Its tone is borrowed from the same zeitgeist that elected a man whose attitude towards women was to “grab ’em by the p*ssy.”
Playwright Selina Fillinger (The Morning Show) appears to have sat down at her keyboard in an especially “c*nty” mood (her word, not mine) and laughed off her heartbreak by creating a pandora’s box of political parody seething with bodily fluids, failings, and functions.
The plot is centered on the President of the United States — by all accounts, literally an *sshole — as seven women try to cover his absence after he is taken ill — I kid you not — by a festering abscess on his anus allegedly caused by rough anal play. When he is accidentally rendered unconscious by a member of the press, the women are sucked into a whirlpool of their own making as they struggle to keep his potential death secret from the nation. But why?
Sadly, these women mostly come across as stereotypes: Harriet (Julie White), a mannish, harried careerist; Stephanie (Rachel Dratch), her imposter syndrome-riddled assistant; Dusty (Julianne Hough), the blue slushy, blowjob-loving Midwestern mistress; and Chris (Lilli Cooper), an ambitious, do-anything-for-a-scoop reporter. Even the president’s butch lesbian sister-with-a-criminal-record Bernadette (Lea DeLaria) is a retread of Big Boo from Orange Is the New Black — but what’s not to love about DeLaria’s bulldyke in a china shop act? This isn’t Shakespeare. This is the clown car of caricatures surrounding an incompetent president.
Only intense, double minority (Asian, lesbian) press secretary Jean (Suzy Nakamura) feels like a new character. At the same time, the queenlike miracle that is Vanessa Williams as the president’s strangely detached wife, Margaret, rises above the fray with true First Lady vibes — and she rocks her stiletto Crocs.
Let’s Have a Moment:
But stereotypes exist because they are true. Aren’t they? And it’s fun to watch women do everything. Isn’t it? Maybe that’s the point. Because beneath the hard, sweet shell of this comic jawbreaker is a bitter abscess filled with rage. How did dumb*ss Donald defeat brilliant Hillary? POTUS is catharsis for those of us still scratching our heads. Take your mind off it with the breakneck pace of director Susan Stroman (The Producers, Bullets Over Broadway) and clever scenic design by Beowulf Boritt. Bop along to the playlist of incidental music titled “B*tch Beats.” Marvel at how Rachel Dratch sustains a bit of physical comedy that lasts for an entire act.
The Last Word:
You can feel Fillinger’s disgust at this country’s gender inequity in the endless quantities of vomit, blood, and breast milk that soak this play. You might think you’re arriving for sharp feminist political commentary. You’re really coming for an episode of Veep put through a Saturday Night Live blender and turned into a blue slushy. It might make you happy and feel good. It might make you sick. Either way, it’s a purge.
POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive plays at the Shubert Theatre through August 14, 2022.
Merryn Johns is a New York City-based magazine editor and journalist. She has edited or written for numerous publications including Curve Magazine, Queer Forty, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and others.