POTUS at Stages Shows The Women Behind the Great One Can Be Just As Raunchy as Men

Alexandra Szeto-Joe in Stages' production of POTUS.
Alexandra Szeto-Joe in Stages' production of POTUS. Photo by Melissa Taylor

Trust me, two martinis are not enough to get through POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, the political farce now playing at Stages. You've got to be blotto, better yet strung out. Oh, the colors.

Selina Fillinger's comedy – I use that word loosely – proves that women can be just as raunchy as frat boys or as groan-inducing as a bad, over-extended Saturday Night Live sketch. Let's see, in the mayhem that ensues during one eventful day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there's a cunt joke that sets the plot in motion, F-bombs dropped repeatedly as if they were pearly Oscar Wilde bon mots, repeated mention of rough ass play, a nuclear proliferation debacle, blue vomit, a leaking breast pump, a young airhead who's serviced the President and is now pregnant, political jokes about Bahrain that fall completely flat, a First Lady who has an orgasm over her hunting skills – “Um, I'm earthy” – finger-banging, blow jobs, lesbian love, and assorted stupid situations that are so over-played that master French farceur Feydeau would swoon onto his divan.

Some of the opening night crowd roared in appreciation whenever the dialogue could be clearly heard over the clattering staging, but many seemed to sit there slack-jawed, not knowing what to make of these grade-school shenanigans. This is farce on the lowest possible level, over-played, over-acted, and not nearly as hilarious as the actors, and director Ashley Love, think it is.

The inept President of the United States, whom we never see, could be any one of our illustrious leaders – name your favorite or the one you love to hate, it doesn't matter – for the frantic seven women who surround him, enable him, and attempt to make this day from hell run smoothly are just as clueless as he is. There's his steely chief of staff Harriet (Deborah Hope, our 2023 Houston Theater Award-winner as Best Actress), first lady Margaret (Michelle Elaine, our 2023 Best Supporting Actress winner), stalwart press secretary Jean (Chelsea Ryan McCurdy), the President's ditzy Gen-Z lover Dusty (an ebullient Alexandra Szeto-Joe), ace White House breast-pumping reporter Chris (Jessica Jaye), hyper stressed-out intern Stephanie (Helen Rios), and the President's butch sister and recent drug dealer deluxe Bernadette (stoic and wryly funny Kasi Love).

This distaff septet runs around frantically, either accidentally stoned or tripping over each other in poorly choreographed fight scenes, while Fillinger's meager plot spins out of control. There are bitch slaps and bitch takes, a wayward inner tube, a thrown vase which ends Act I, a box which contains the President's body whose feet dangle out of the lid. There are five doors in Laura Fine Hawkes' Oval Office set – doors are the essential element of a classic farce – but they're never used as farce material. Characters either open them or close them for entrances or exits. They never slam them, they never just miss each other in the ruckus. This play is all surface, a lot of raunch and silly filth. The best line of the night is when press secretary Chris (I believe it was Chris but I had somewhat zoned out by then) lambastes zonky Dusty, “Your name is an adjective, don't tell me what to do.” I actually laughed out loud at that zinger. It was the only time I did so.

I suppose women behaving just as badly as men is worthy in some way. They can be crude and stupid, too. Woman trying to prop up a flailing president who bumbles his way through the day has merit, but as Fillinger says many times about her characters, Why aren't you President?

This endeavor isn't worthy of these actors who knock themselves out playing material far below their talents. POTUS played on Broadway with a stellar cast (Julie White, Vanessa Williams, Lea DeLaria, Rachel Dratch) and a stellar director (Susan Stroman), but it didn't last long. I know why. So will you when you see this.

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive continues through October 8 at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and  2 p.m. Sundays at The Gordy, 800 Rosine. For more information, call 713-527-0123 or visit $48 - $88.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover