Review: POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE at Stage West Theatre

This excellent ensemble kept me laughing so hard I had trouble breathing

By: Mar. 21, 2024
Review: POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE at Stage West Theatre
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The purpose of a review should be to tell you what the play is about (without spoiling too much) and whether it’s worth your valuable time and money.  This play makes the second part easy: Yes!, but the first part is difficult, as just about any description spoils a hilarious set of jokes.  POTUS is a shockingly funny play – shocking not just in the sense of surprising, but also because much of the language and the plot is designed, at times, to shock, like the stand-up comedy of Anthony Jeselnik or Jimmy Carr.  So while I highly recommend this show, I must warn you, as Stage West does on its website, the play is overflowing with naughty words, which some people may find offensive.  You might think of it as South Park meets The West Wing, with some David Mamet thrown in for fun (and since those are a few of my favorite things, I can’t think of too many higher compliments for playwright Selina Fillinger).

As I said, even to simply set the stage (pardon the pun) for the play is to step on certain jokes.  So if you want to go in knowing nothing that’s going to take away from surprise, stop reading (although please come back and finish reading after you attend).  That said, I’ll do my best to not reveal too much.

As the full title of the play suggests, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, is an irreverent, disrespectful, biting political satire cum farce.  I was worried, from the subtitle, that it would just be boilerplate feminism (if not outright misandry), and there is some of that, but it’s more than eclipsed by the brilliance of the show. 

Review: POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE at Stage West Theatre
        vicki washington and Dana Schultes

The President, whom we never meet, is something of a buffoon: a cross between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, with only the negative parts of both in evidence.  He began the day, in this, the third year (I believe) of his term, by announcing to various dignitaries assembled for negotiations for a nuclear non-proliferation treaty that the First Lady wouldn’t be joining the meeting by describing her morning using the adjectival form (which you may not have known existed) of a disrespectful word for a part of the female anatomy.

Trying to deal with this faux pas deluxe are the Chief of Staff, Harriet (Dana Schultes) and Press Secretary, Jean (Vanessa DeSilvio).  As might be imagined, Harriet is the brains behind the throne, but even she is a bit thrown by the situation, which is compounded by the fact that the President is dealing with a sensitive medical issue that the team does not want the world to know about.

The First Lady, Margaret (vickie washington), who was actually at the meeting, is having her own problems.  Despite holding multiple PhDs and having run up to five non-profit organizations at one time (while also being an avid big-game hunter), everyone is focusing on the shoes she wore at a recent event.  She’s about to have an in-depth interview with a reporter, the just returned from maternity leave (and recently divorced), Chris (Octavia Y. Thomas), whose older son is a classmate of Press Secretary Jean’s son.

Review: POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE at Stage West Theatre
    Laurel L. Collins and Olivia Cinquepalmi

Meanwhile, the President’s sister, Bernadette (Laurel L. Collins), a convicted drug dealer (somehow) granted a temporary parole, shows up to lobby her brother for a pardon, something everyone knows is a horrible idea.  Also visiting is the President’s girlfriend, Dusty (Olivia Cinquepalmi), fresh from her father’s Iowa farm with wonderful news.

Add to this Stephanie (Kristin McCollum), the President’s insecure secretary (who seems very out of place in that critical role until we learn that she’s fluent in four or five languages and has a photographic memory), who will soon have the experience of her lifetime.

Review: POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE at Stage West Theatre
Kristin McCollum (with Harry Truman looking on)

To tell any more would give away too much (if I haven’t already), except to say that each of these seven talented performers are excellently cast in their roles.  They not only take turns stealing the show, but they work incredibly well as an ensemble, refusing to upstage each other or step on anyone else’s lines.

In addition to the cast’s generosity, credit for this must be given to director Kara-Lynn Vaeni (fresh off the resounding success of Kitchen Dog’s production of Shape, which she both wrote and directed), who keeps this madcap ride moving at a feverish pace.  Aiding her in that task is Bryan Stevenson’s remarkable set, which spins, opens, hides, and reveals a number of different locations within the White House.  Roma Flowers’s lighting and Joshua Nguyen’s sound worked well, while Shahrzad Mazaheri’s wigs and costumes – particularly the one that inspires one of the funniest lines in the play – were on target.  Lynn Lovett’s props were great; I assume she was in charge of the many liquids, but the less said about some of those, the better.

Review: POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE at Stage West Theatre
   Vanessa DeSilvio and Octavia Y. Thomas

Again, I thought this was a hilarious show and I’ll be attending it again (a Sunday evening performance is a wonderful thing).  However, it’s not for everyone.  While it doesn’t have the religious overtones of Book of Mormon or Hand to God, it’s jam packed with what the announcer on Ted Lasso likes to call “fruity language.”  If the dialogue from The Sopranos was unacceptable to you, this isn’t your show.  Stage West has created an advisory page on their website (https://stagewest.org/advisories), which lists the frequency of each possibly offensive term – spoiler: variants of the c word are uttered 28 times.

But happily, those warnings don’t seem to be scaring away audiences.  Originally booked for a three-week run (Stage West normally does four weeks), with Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances scheduled, ticket demand has been so high, that the show has now been extended, with extra performances added for a fourth weekend.

I’m hardly the first person to recognize that American politics has gone off the rails (and yet, None of the Above still isn’t an option on our ballots), so instead, join me in ignoring it while jumping into the political dumpster fire that is POTUS.

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive runs through March 30 at Stage West in Fort Worth.

Photos courtesy of Evan Michael Woods


 


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