Review: POTUS at CVRep

Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying To Keep Him Alive

By: Mar. 01, 2024
Review: POTUS at CVRep
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Review: POTUS at CVRep POTUS or Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying To Keep Him Alive, now playing at CVRep, premiered on Broadway at The Shubert Theatre in 2022. 

“When the President unwittingly spins a PR nightmare into a global crisis, the seven brilliant and beleaguered women he relies upon most will risk life, liberty, and the pursuit of sanity to keep the Commander in Chief out of trouble.”

Sounds great, right? The play ran for just four months [corrected], and the casting was all-star comedic actresses spanning the past thirty years. Directed by acclaimed director/choreographer Susan Stroman the buzz was that the production was “side-splittingly funny.” 

A big fan of side-splittingly funny, and the hilarious TV show VEEP, I was stoked. I was pretty sure I knew who the “dumbass” was, it was the “great” part in the title that was throwing me. (Spoiler: the “great” refers to the breadth of his dumbassery.) But the point is: I wanted to love this.

Review: POTUS at CVRep So here’s the story: POTUS has been a very bad boy, he called First Lady Margaret (Marlo Denise Stroud) something that rhymes with “bunty” and begins with a hard “c”. In front of the press. And foreign dignitaries. That sends his Chief of Staff Harriet (Julie Cardia) into a dither as she explains his recent mouth mess to Press Secretary Jean (Michelle Liu Coughlin) who starts figuring out how to spin it. 

We also meet POTUS’s secretary Stephanie (Emily Nash) who is so victimized by everyone around her that she thinks she is about to lose her job especially after Dusty (Shannon Mary Dixon) shows up. Harriet is trying to keep Dusty’s identity unknown, and some overheard chatter sends Stephanie into a panic. But the reason Dusty is at the White House is that she’s pregnant and here to see her ‘special friend’ POTUS.

Also in the West Wing is Chris (Tamika Katin-Donegal) a reporter and new mother (of twins!) who is constantly pumping breast milk (with two containers of pumping milk always strapped to her bosom almost throughout the entire play) and who is there to do a story on the First Lady.

Our final player is POTUS’s sister Bernadette (Cas Koenig), a drug-dealing lesbian who just “got out” of prison and is there to receive a full pardon from her bro. 

And this is where hilarity ensues. In theory.

The opening looked promising with Cardia giving us more beleaguered executive assistant than chief of staff. That had to do with costuming (I’ll get to that), and we’re settling in to what looks like a fun romp when Jean enters. Director Courtney Young has Jean deliver her lines straight to audience. I now wonder if that was supposed to be a joke (because she’s the press secretary, she always faces the audience) either way it doesn’t work. Everything starts at such a fever pitch that when we get to the slapstick it’s just not funny. 

I will say that there are some chuckles. Koenig breathes some much needed life into the play when they enter, and effectively brings Bernadette to life. Dixon is having a damn good time on that stage and it shows. Her character’s “sacrifice” for the cause is very much that of a powerful woman saying “I have the skills and it makes sense for me to be the one to go into the front lines.” That the sacrifice is giving BJs where needed does not negate that she is stepping up and doing it for the good of the loosely formed ragtag team that is now trying to cover up an even bigger mess. One that they accidentally caused. Dusty, a woman of questionable morals, is taking one for the team; she’s a damn patriot for giving those BJs.

Review: POTUS at CVRep Talent is not lacking on the stage, all seven actors play what they’re given well. The problem is mostly Selina Fillinger’s play. It feels a bit like a sketch that may have started at The Groundlings. The type of humor that comes not from well-written lines, but hit and miss improv. Add to that, these women work for the most powerful man in our country, and they seem to be, not dumbasses, but fragile women in a state of panic. Their highly emotional reactions to everything the dumbass does or says reinforces the old chestnut that a woman can’t be in power because What if she got her period during a crisis? She’ll be too emotional. And again, if skewering the trope is what’s going on here, I did not get that.

Because I was having trouble processing what I had just seen. I mean, why was this play on Broadway for a year? So I took a peek at the original production when I got home. The mayhem is there, but it is supported by an all-star cast and a revolving set. Oddly enough, a revolving set might have given us some focus, but as it is, it’s a bit hard to tell where we should be looking. Not that Jimmy Cuomo’s set isn’t terrific, it is (as usual). Instead of a revolving set, we got doors. Lots of doors. And a swing out bathroom (genius). Those doors are very Noises Off but without the focus. The result is supposed to be madcap, but it’s just confusing. The scrim, lit by Moira Wilkie, was a nice touch though. 

So, the costume thing at the opening that was bugging me was the ill-fitting suit and the loosely draped scarf around Harriet’s neck. It felt inappropriate for such a powerful woman. And bright white athletic shoes? Maybe if she’d had a pair of heels, or some expensive loafers on her desk, that could have explained that, but Is that really what they’re wearing in the West Wing these days? I wondered why costumer Emma Bibo put her in that until I saw the original cast photos. ALL of the costumes were damn near exact replicas of the original show. Right down to the scarf around Harriet’s neck, Jean’s suit, Dusty’s swing skirt and boots, and Bernadette’s camo-cargo shorts. 

Thumbs up on Joshua Adams’s delightful sound design. It got us bopping. And although the choreographed number after curtain call was cute, by the time it happened, it was too late. I will admit that the show wasn’t tedious - I didn’t keep checking my watch. There was a lot going on. But as a theatergoer, I was nonplussed. As a woman - although I was happy to see a production with seven female characters - I was sad, disappointed, and kinda angry about the characterization of powerful women in the West Wing as a bunch of overly excitable buffoons. If a group of powerful focused women are solving a problem with the addition of special forces in the form of a reporter who’s also a mom; a scorned but loose pregnant ‘patriot’; and a wiley lesbian drug dealer who just got out of prison, you don’t get a bunch of hysterical women. You get the A Team. Danny Ocean would be taking notes. Instead, I want to vote them all off the island.

I’m honestly confused by the choice of play as CVRep generally gives us some very thoughtful productions. To quote Ariana Grande: Thank you, next. 

POTUS OR BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE runs at CVRep through March 17, 2024.

*Photo credit David A Lee

Courtney Young … Director

Julie Cardoia … Harriet

Michelle Liu Coughlin … Jean

Shannon Mary Dixon … Dusty

Tamika Katon Donegal … Chris

Cas Koenig … Bernadette

Stephanie … Emily Nash

Margaret …Marlo Denise Stroud

Production

Joshua Adams … Sound Design

Emma Bibo … Costume Design

Jimmy Cuomo … Scenic Design

Ryan Marquart … Properties Design

Lynda Shaeps … Hair and Makeup Design

Moira Wilkie … Lighting Design

Melina Ginn … Stage Manager


 




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