Review: On ‘POTUS’, White House Activators Go Crazy

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Keep an eye on the bust of Alice Paul.

Remember the suffragist Paul who helped secure women’s suffrage in 1920 and then went on to write the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment? If not, you can go to the People’s Theater downtown to watch “Suffs.” musical about Paul and his colleagues.

But out of town, Paul is a bullet. More precisely, in “POTUS” Quickly and intermittently hilarious nonsense starting Wednesday Shubert has a plaster sculpture of his face. It is Paul who brings down the first act of Selina Fillinger’s stubborn feminist comedy, and with it, in a way, patriarchy itself.

I would give too much to say exactly how a statue corrupts Fillinger’s nameless and unseen head. The game, in any case, is happy to get rid of it. Its clumsy sub-title – “Behind Every Big Fool There Are Seven Women Trying To Keep Him Alive” – ​​makes it clear that “POTUS” is less concerned with the underdog than with its hyper-sufficient facilitators.

“POTUS” is essentially an encyclopedia of activation, a natural field guide to the various poses taken by women who outsource their souls. The classic cases are Harriet, the president’s besieged chief of staff, and Jean, the perpetually blind press secretary. What Jean (Suzy Nakamura) tells Harriet (Julie White) applies to both: “You stand by for her every day, you’ve been doing this for years. You clean up his mess, you make excuses, you do your job, and then you wake up and do it all over again.”

On the day “POTUS” is set, that means trying to stay on track as the president faces a series of public engagements, including a nonproliferation conference, a political endorsement, a photo shoot with disabled veterans, and a gala honoring a female leadership. council with the appropriate abbreviation FML. At 9 a.m., he was already disastrously off course, referring to the First Lady on her first appearance, referring to a word that could not be spoken and in any case unprinted here.

While no love seems to have been lost between the two, First Lady Margaret isn’t Melania Trump, except for the cat-like smugness that was the top note of Vanessa Williams’ chic performance. Margaret is extraordinarily accomplished: Stanford and Harvard graduate, lawyer, author, gallerist, and taekwondo practitioner. Still, she must put up with and cover up for her husband’s filthy errands, including a “wakeful powder puff” named Dusty (Julianne Hough), who spews out “blue raz” slushies at the White House.

How does Dusty provide the president with his own amazing achievements, including both adventurous sex games and flax farming?

At any rate, Dusty adds a new note in Susan Stroman’s prestissimo production, which, until her arrival, seems at least loosely tied to reality. You can imagine how a woman like Stephanie, the president’s secretary, who speaks five languages ​​and has a photographic memory, can still be despised as a loser in this environment because she is a coward and has no polish. The First Lady calls him a “menopausal toddler”—a description Rachel Dratch lives up to with her repertoire of squirrels and mice.

And even whining-winner Lilli Cooper makes it easy to imagine how a woman like Chris, a Time magazine journalist and newly divorced mother, could be worried about her job despite her experience and expertise. Jean warns him that there are always younger male colleagues who “can tweet you, text you, steal a Red Bull and work for three days.” On the other hand, ready to interview the First Lady, Chris spends most of the game multitasking just to stay afloat—coordinating with his babysitter, ex, editors, and subjects as they either express or leak breast milk.

Still, he asked her in frustration and shock at the game, “Why aren’t you president?” You’d easily include it as one of the women he asks.

Although Dusty is talented, that doesn’t fit the bill. Nor is the seventh character, Bernadette (Lea DeLaria), the overly muscular and frankly criminal sister of the president. The only country where you could imagine him as president would be a despotic narcostat with a cannon in DeLaria’s role, not much different from ours.

Dusty and Bernadette, as outside powers, gnaw at their foundations if necessary to further the charade. Perfectly sharp at first encounters, with White and Nakamura forming a terrific comedy team, the purpose of satire begins to dull as the emphasis shifts from verbal to physical humor.

This physical humor is not always masterfully handled. (Dratch does it wonderfully, but the fight choreography isn’t believable.) And the turntable set (by Beowulf Boritt), which efficiently spins the early action from room to room like a White House Lazy Susan, seems to spin in act two. expresses hysteria, but does not give us a chance to absorb it. (The sitcom’s bright lighting is by Sonoyo Nishikawa.) As women move from cleaning up men’s mess to making their own mess, you can feel some air, or perhaps milk, seep out of the comedy.

This is, in a way, a faithful expression of Fillinger’s faith. He told Amanda Hess in The TimesIf you take the guy out of the room, patriarchy still exists and we still play by its rules.

But expanding that idea into comedy, Fillinger tries to have it both ways, like a politician. This is in its Broadway debut, the roads don’t always run together. As a farce, “POTUS” still plays by the old and almost definitional male rules; Persian is built on metaphors of domination and violence. On the other hand, and more happily, “POTUS” allows us to experience the double bond of exceptional women, not mediated by men attached to their accomplices. “He’s a pyromaniac, but you gave him kindling,” journalist Chris tells the others.

Or as chief of staff Harriet put it in a line that Alice Paul might have appreciated: “If you stop saving her, she won’t last.” Maybe this also applies to male-dominated Persians.

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Big Fool There Are Seven Women Trying To Keep Him Alive.
By August 14 at the Shubert Theater in Manhattan; potusbway.com. Working time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

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