“POTUS:” Broadway’s Raunchy New Farce About Femininity

Broadway’s new comedy tackles the question “what if women ran the white house?”

Torch Photo / Alejandro Yau

An obscene four-letter word that can get you arrested in some parts of England was the first word uttered in playwright Selina Fillinger’s broadway debut play, “POTUS.” For the next hour and 50 minutes, the audience roared with laughter as seven women risked their lives and limbs for the leader of the free world. 

Directed by five-time Tony award-winner Susan Stroman, “POTUS” is a self-described farce about how patriarchy is built on the pillars of womanhood. The show features a star-studded cast including Vanessa Williams, Rachel Dratch, Julianne Hough and Lea DeLaria. The whole show focuses on how these women try to steer America away from global catastrophe, while comically emphasizing that it’s a job someone else was elected to do. 

Joe Biden has been the United States’ president for more than a year and still the media has tried to make sense of the past four years of a Donald Trump-era white house. Movies like “Don’t Look Up” and Alec Baldwin’s never-ending guest appearances on “Saturday Night Live” are great examples of this. However, what struck me most about this play was that it took this critique in a different direction. It wasn’t obvious to the point that it felt predictable. It found comedy in the terrifying realism that is ‘men in politics.’

Julie White, who plays Harriet, the president’s chief of staff, works insanely hard at her job to the point that a recurring joke appears by asking her why she isn’t the president. Along with Suze Nakamura and Vanessa Williams, who play the white house press secretary and first lady, respectively.These women not only do the president’s job but also have to cover up his disastrous mess every time he attempts to actually do the job required of him. In the end, however, it’s still not enough. The women save the day and the unseen president swoops in at the end and takes all the credit. 

I have never laughed at a show as hard as I did watching this production. Everything worked together so well, from the set and lighting design to the physical humor of the costumes and props, and the cast brought an incredible amount of talent to an already incredible script.

A memorable moment is Rachel Dratch running through the audience on a drug trip after consuming what she thought was a jar of TUMS. Her character, the President’s personal secretary, is constantly undermined and underappreciated but at the end of the play, her random fluency in Arabic puts America in the world’s good graces and stops the possibility of nuclear war. 

As bizarre as that sounds, the playwright did an excellent job of not letting the humor erase the commentary. There was a great balance of seriousness and silliness and the audience knew when to laugh and when to stop and think. 

Not only did the show address women’s role in a male-domainted field, it emphasized the various faces of womanhood. Each character was completely different. Julianne Hough played Dusty, the president’s ditzy pregnant mistress from the farms of Iowa, while Lea DeLaria played Bernadette, the president’s foul-mouthed, drug-mule sister who is fresh out of prison. 

While most of the humor comes from these women trying to make sense of each other, they come together and cooperate for the sake of one man and the country he attempts to lead. That’s the only disappointing truth that the show represents. They help each other, but not to help themselves, to help someone else. Someone who doesn’t appreciate them or value them. And they’ll do it all again the next day. 

The first woman is currently serving as vice president, the first Black woman was recently  confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the number of women serving in the 117th Congress is larger than any previous congressional body. “POTUS” is a hopeful reminder that we are entering a new era of American politics and that women have a voice louder than ever before.