“POTUS” is misogyny masquerading as feminism, schlock staged as theater

By Lucy Komisar

“POTUS, ” which I am surprised to find on Broadway, is misogyny masquerading as feminism. It is crude, vulgar, at the intellectual level of 13-year-old boys, or maybe a local sex-themed comedy club that serves up booze and cheap laughs.

Harriet (Julie White), the president’s top aide, reports to staff that he has just said at a press conference, “Please excuse my wife’s absence. She’s having a cunty morning.” You heard that right.

Lilli Cooper as Chris, Rachel Dratch as Stephanie with tube for POTUS to sit on and Vanessa Williams as Margaret, photo Paul Kolnik.

He is described as standing throughout the day, even at meetings on nuclear proliferation, because he has a postule on his anus from some rough sex play. Not with his wife.

He seems to be a grosser Bill Clinton, and the wife a less intelligent Hillary. If these characters make the Clintons look good, well…….

The play is supposed to be farce, though it’s more like sitcom, and never clever. Maybe farce because there’s lots of moving through doors in a set that is on a turntable and shows various offices as it swirls.

Vanessa Williams as the wife Margaret is flat. She wears crocs (to show she is earthy) with heels, because, well, you need heels

Suzy Nakamura as Jean, Lea Delaria as Bernadette, and Julianne Hough as Dusty, photo Paul Kolnik.

Then there’s the staff. As his chief aide Harriet, Julie White’s voice stays at one level, screechy. She must have laryngitis by the end. Jean, the press secretary (Suzy Nakamura), was unimpressive, but so are are all (recent) press secretaries, so maybe it was a good performance. The empty-headed secretary Stephanie (Rachel Dratch) is a cipher.

POTUS’s butch sister Bernadette (Lea DeLaria, always a good actor) is an international drug dealer, which reminded me that when Clinton was governor of Arkansas, the airfield at Mena, Ark., was a drug smuggling landing. https://katv.com/news/local/fbi-memo-reveals-drug-smuggling-at-mena-airport-in-1980

Dusty (Julianne Hough), POTUS’s pregnant teen girlfriend, who drinks blue slushes and spits them up, arrives to declare she’s there “for the position,” wink, think intern. Harriet asks if she is into “rough ass play.”

From time to time, they ask each other, “Why aren’t you president.” “That’s the eternal question.” No, it’s a fine question since they are stupid enough.

Chris (Lilli Cooper) about to throw bust of Alice Paul, just before POTUS’s door at right opens, photo Paul Kolnik.

The only almost sane character is Chris (well-acted by Lilli Cooper), a reporter, except that she has two baby’s milk bottles attached to her chest, because she just had a child. When Chris gets into room where a lot is happening, Jean the press person grabs her phone, leading to a throwing battle where a white bust of suffragist leader Alice Paul ends up smashing the head of POTUS who is about to enter the room. You see only his legs. (There are no male actors.)

Reminded me that “Suffs,” where Alice Paul is the heroine, was a much much better play for anyone who cares about feminism, or good theater

There are a few moments of what passes for serious exposition. “President reportedly stormed out of the nuclear non-proliferation discussions, after a fiery exchange with the Prime Minister of Bahrain.”

Jean says, “I don’t think a government as cozy with Saudi Arabia as Bahrain’s can really pass judgment on ours.

The reporter comments, “I don’t think a government as cozy with Saudi Arabia as ours can really pass judgment on Bahrain.

Vanessa Williams as Margaret and Julie White as Harriet, photo Paul Kolnik.

Later, Harriet, the top aide, wonders rationally about the Saudi, “Did he take a break from imprisoning journalists to issue that statement?” Made me think of Joe Biden’s fist bump with his favorite Saudi killer.

She says, “The only reason Bahrain was even invited today was to look like we give a shit about tiny Arab countries.” To which Jean replies, “Nice, I love the smell of imperialism in the morning.”

In fact, even that is not true. It’s usually about oil in the Middle East, though in this case Bahrain has a big banking sector, also known as a money-laundering center. But playwright Selina Fillinger probably needed to “say something foreign policy.”

Alas, Fillinger, who is female and evidently hates women, is not that bright. She’s more comfortable with moving the plot along in a diversion to keep the secret service away from the president. Dusty (nobly, in the script direction): “I’ll do it. I’ll blow Kevin and Danny. For POTUS, I’ll blow them both.” And (offstage) she does.

It’s sad to see normally talented director Susan Stroman responsible for such schlock. This is the worst Broadway play I have seen in years. In fact, it makes raunchy comedy clubs seem high class.

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.” Written by Selina Fillinger. Directed by Susan Stroman. Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street, NYC. 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400. Opened April 27, 2022, closes Aug. 14, 2022. Runtime 1hr50. Review on New York Theatre Wire.

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