You clean up his messes, you make excuses, you do his job, and then you wake up and do it all over again.
Women with brilliant comedic timing take center stage in the current Broadway hit POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. This raucously relevant play reminds us of the work required behind-the-scenes to ensure that America’s POTUS – aka the President of the United States – appears in total self-control at all times (especially on camera).
Always one for a politically relevant comedy with feminist themes, I bought tickets to a Wednesday night show. While I knew that POTUS would be dealing with current issues that women face in this political climate, I walked into the theater with no specific expectations beyond appreciation for the many notable names in the cast. What a gratifying piece to behold!
The narrative focuses on a press conference with a convoluted back story: how did a nondescript President of the United States get himself into his current predicament… and how will he get out of it? Thankfully, there is an intelligent group of strong-minded women that will do anything to keep his image afloat. In just under two hours, this play manages to encapsulate the struggles and triumphs of women in the workplace. Fast-paced and high-stressed, POTUS clips along, never failing to bring the audience along for the ride.
Playwright Selina Fillinger (a newcomer to Broadway best-known for her writing on season 3 of Apple TV’s The Morning Show) deftly constructs scenes that feed into each other and overlap with irreverence and hilarity.
The White House interior designed by Beowulf Boritte is built on a revolving set with angled walls which provide the illusion of expanse while also making the audience feel like they are encroaching on government secrets during each political vignette.
Linda Cho (Tony award winner for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) creates costumes that capture the essence of each character. From the flowy sundress worn by deceptively ditsy Dusty (played by Julianne Hough) to the black turtleneck worn by strait-laced Jean (played by Suzy Nakamura), Linda Cho uses her eye for detail to make each woman pop.
Susan Stroman’s staging allows for just the right focus in the midst of chaos.
Holding it all together is the intricate direction by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, showing her utter mastery of onstage choreography. The thought that all seven women will eventually converge might sound overwhelming, but Susan Stroman’s staging allows for just the right focus in the midst of chaos.
Standout performer Rachel Dratch – best-known previously for playing “Debbie Downer” on Saturday Night Live – is a relative newcomer to Broadway. She exudes comedic brilliance in a cast full of women making bold choices. As Stephanie, the President’s personal secretary, she plays a woman able to speak five languages who nevertheless suffers from low self-esteem, so no great stretch from the dowdy underdog parts she’s already mastered. But halfway through POTUS, after Stephanie takes an unexpectedly strong edible, Rachel Dratch takes us on Stephanie’s journey through the many stages of her highness all the while clad in a bright pink inner tube. Hilarity ensues through the motif of “power poses” and arbitrarily placed post-its. I would not be surprised to learn that playwright Selina Fillinger wrote the role of Stephanie with Rachel Dratch in mind.
On the other hand, Lilli Cooper is a Broadway veteran. Growing up with the original cast recording of Spring Awakening, I was especially excited to see Lilli Cooper’s performance as Chris, a newly divorced reporter and recent mother of twins. The visual effect of Chris wearing a breast pump onstage emphasizes the length to which modern mothers must sometimes go to balance both a career and a family simultaneously.
And how perfect to cast former Miss America Vanessa Williams as FLOTUS (aka the First Lady of the United States). After thunderous applause following her first entrance, Vanessa Williams commands a stage with the utmost presence and glamour even while wearing high-heeled Crocs.
Julianne Hough’s character Dusty has a particularly pertinent role in our current national debate about the future of Roe versus Wade. One comment that she makes about safe abortions being a human right elicited extended, uproarious applause from my audience, and the message rang clear that Dusty intends her personal decision to be hers and hers alone.
POTUS knows he has women under him acting as a safety net…
After seeing POTUS, I left the theatre feeling curious about the future of the United States government. This play highlights the increasingly stark double standard between men and women in the workplace. When the president makes mistakes – repeatedly, again and again – he knows he has women under him acting as a safety net, and together they will catch him when he falls. Each one of these women had to be responsible for their individual actions, but the real work started when they came together to support one another.
Sometimes I leave a theater puzzled by the thesis – what does this play mean to say? But the clear vision of POTUS still leaves me with so much to unpack. Must women spend their time constantly sweeping up the messes of others, only to feel so unappreciated and overworked?
Last Sunday night (June 12th) was Tony Night – the night Broadway celebrated the 75th Tony Awards. Rachel Dratch and Julie White were both nominated for Featured Actress in a Play, but why should the members of an intricate ensemble be forced to compete against one another? This dilemma further exemplifies the need for two “Best Ensemble” categories: one for plays and one for musicals.
With all the pain and suffering going on in the world, POTUS fills the theatre with boisterous laughter all while addressing serious themes that need to be discussed. The members of my audience were literally on their feet cheering by the end. The production closes on August 14th, so there’s still time to see POTUS for yourself. I highly recommend it!
© Taylor Beckman (6/15/22) – Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Click HERE to order your ticket to POTUS while you still can!
Follow this link to see the complete list of 2022 Tony nominations including 3 for POTUS.
Curious about the history of the acronym POTUS? Earliest records indicate that it came into being in the 1890s as an abbreviation used by telegraph operators.
CREDITS & PERMISSION
Featured Photo: Vanessa Williams as Margaret aka FLOTUS (the First Lady of the United States).
Bottom Photo: The POTUS ensemble in motion. (Note that Lea Delaria is missing from this photo.)
Photos by Paul Kolnik. firstname.lastname@example.org NYC 917-673-3003 All Rights Reserved.
Cast Chart created by Jan Lisa Huttner (FF2’s Editor-in-Chief).