Review: POTUS at Stray Cat Theatre

The production runs through December 16th at Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, AZ.

By: Dec. 06, 2023
Review: POTUS at Stray Cat Theatre

Who needs a script when you’ve got a title that tells it all? POTUS, OR BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE.

Last year’s Broadway premiere of the show was greeted with rousing acclamation and three Tony nominations (two for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play and one for best scenic design). It is quite a success story for Selina Fillinger whose debut as a playwright focuses on one crazy madcap day in the White House.

As a farcical paean to women empowerment, it is totally in line with the kind of barbs appropriately directed these days at the patriarchy and, in particular, at the male political leadership that we’ve come to know and detest.

Fillinger’s concept is a good one, echoing Margaret Thatcher’s proposition that “if you want something done, ask a woman.” The something in this story that must get done is damage control when a serious gaffe (a “see you next Tuesday" slip of the tongue), an unpleasant physical condition, and a misdirected vase befall the incumbent and exacerbate an international brouhaha.

Of course, the political show must go on; the affairs of state must be attended to while the CinC is incapacitated.

Rising to the challenge are seven women of distinctively different roles and dispositions whose hilarious interplay and antics are fodder for harpooning the man.

The play is now the featured presentation of Stray Cat Theatre, running through December 16th at Tempe Center for the Arts. There were laughs aplenty among the opening weekend audience but, alas, not on the part of those who, perhaps because of a gap in generational perspectives and tastes, found the stream of vulgarities and spitting up of foreign substances too over-the-top. Frankly, the warning about mature themes and very strong language is a bit of an understatement.

Over-the-top applies as well to the performances of a cast, each of whom brings impressive credentials to the stage and accentuates the marvelous range of womanhood: Dolores Mendoza as the take-control, intense, and acerbic chief of staff. Emily Mohney as Stephanie, the Oval’s goofy, self-effacing, aspiring secretary who is desperate to retain her position. Lauren McKay as Bernadette, the dumbass’s quirky sister who is on probation for dealing and yet looking for a pardon. Lydia Corbin as the self-possessed, headstrong, and combat-ready First Lady. Deatra Branston as a reporter stuck between her new mom duties and her quest for a scoop. And Alison Campbell, in a standout performance as Dusty, the feisty, wisely irreverent, and pregnant Presidential mistress.

However, Fillinger’s farce and the performances of these fine artists would be better honored by trusting the playwright’s clever lines with less exaggeration and bombast. The witty brilliance and pointed impact of the playwright’s lines are lost in the chaos. The result is that the uplifting message of I am Woman gets lost in what registers as organized chaos and an almost stereotypical degrading of its female characters.

Given the near-manic movements of the players, the play’s potential would likewise be enhanced greatly by a strong dose of effective choreography.

The show, directed by Katie McFadzen (one of the region’s brightest theatrical lights), is certainly fast-paced, but it leans too far into slapstick at the expense of nuance and its fuller potential.

POTUS: OR, BEHIND EVERY GREAT DUMBASS ARE SEVEN WOMEN TRYING TO KEEP HIM ALIVE runs through December 16th at Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, AZ.

Stray Cat Theatre ~ ~ 480-350-2822

Venue: Tempe Center for the Arts, Studio Theatre ~ 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, AZ