It’s about time we saw a play that made us laugh. Our world is filled with trouble and woe, so enjoying a good guffaw is not only fun but also therapeutic. Thank you, Berkeley Rep!
The title of Selina Fillinger’s “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive” tells you just about all you need to know about this farcical bit of silliness, except that the comedy is cleverly interspersed with some subtle messaging about the state of the world, male presidents, and the women propping them up.
You know you are in for an unconventional evening when the first word uttered on stage is the “c-word.” Yes, it’s designed to be an attention-getter, and it works. In fact, “POTUS” is filled with curses and sexual references (like “ass-play”). Most are unnecessary but designed to let us know how the tough-as-nails white house women cope with their pressure-cooker lives. It’s not easy to make this idiot of a president look good — or at least better than he is. (Any allusions to a particular former president are purely in your mind.)
Under Annie Tippe’s able direction, the women behind the unseen and unnamed president spend what may be a typical day at the White House trying but failing to keep the Prez on track through several public engagements, a photo op with disabled veterans, a political endorsement, and a dinner honoring a women’s leadership group (the merch tee-shirts read “FML”). By the end of Act II, the White House has spiraled entirely out of control. And as the women repeat to each other, why isn’t one of them the president?
The seven women in the president’s life (all played by talented actors) are his long-suffering chief of staff (Deirdre Lovejoy), his constantly caught-short press secretary (Kim Blanck), his shy secretary, who speaks five languages and has a photographic memory (Susan Lynskey), his multi-talented, over-educated, tough wife (Stephanie Pope Lofgren), a journalist hoping for the scoop of the year while she is vainly trying to use a much-needed breast-pump (Dominique Toney), his slushy-blue-tongued, pregnant girlfriend (Stephanie Styles), and his drug kingpin gay sister (Allison Guinn). They are each great characters, playing off each other beautifully, accompanied by terrific stagecraft. And underneath all the absurdity is the sad truth of how our political system works and how much we are kept in the dark.
But somewhere in the better second act of “POTUS,” the political perceptions and the farcical elements begin to compete, so neither ultimately succeeds. Maybe we’ve watched too many door slammings (think “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn) and grown a bit weary of the servants ruling the roost à la Molière. Or perhaps the drugged-out secretary dancing around in her underwear became unfunny. In any event, “POTUS” is a fun evening with much cleverness and comedy that makes some unfortunate political realities momentarily more palatable.
“POTUS” runs through October 22, 2023, at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Its length is approximately two hours plus one intermission. Masks are encouraged but optional for performances from Wednesday through Saturday. Mask-wearing is required in the theatre on all Sundays (matinees and evenings) and Tuesdays. Post-show discussions and closed captioning are available at specific performances. Tickets $34–$134, subject to change, can be purchased online at www.berkeleyrep.org or by phone at 510 647-2949.