Theater Review: POTUS (SpeakEasy Stage Company at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston)

Post image for Theater Review: POTUS (SpeakEasy Stage Company at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston)

by Lynne Weiss on September 18, 2023

in Theater-Boston,Theater-Regional


Seven women propping up one man—that’s the premise behind Selena Fillinger’s POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. The widely produced play, which had its Broadway debut just a little over a year ago, is political but not partisan because its critique of patriarchy can be directed at members of either of the major political parties.

Catia, Marianna Bassham, and Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda 
Lisa Yuen and Crystin Gilmore 

The terrifically funny Speakeasy production, which opened last night, is directed by Boston theater veteran Paula Plum, and it opens with two women, chief of staff Harriet (Lisa Yuen) and press secretary Jean (Laura Latreille) shouting a single misogynistic slur (um, rhymes with “stunt”) at one another. They are not trading insults. They are expressing their shared disbelief and panic that the President used a variant of this term to refer to the First Lady (Crystin Gilmore) before a group of diplomats and cabinet officials.

Laura Latreille and Monique Ward Lonergan
Catia and Crystin Gilmore

He made this comment because an affliction resulting from a certain type of sexual activity prevents him from sitting down, which prevents everyone around him from sitting down, and thus he could not see that his wife was in the room. Furthermore, he has not been able to see a doctor about this condition because of his busy schedule—which includes negotiating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty and addressing a major feminist organization.

Monique Ward Lonergan, Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda and Laura Latreille

Director Plum explains that farce is “slamming doors and high-speed chases,” while satire uses ridicule and exaggeration to expose stupidity in political and social issues. Jenna McFarland Lord’s set with its multiple tilted and distorted doors is well-suited to the needs of this farcical satire, which includes a lot of entrances and exits and slamming. One never knows who is going to come through a given door.

The Cast

Despite the efforts of the president’s secretary Stephanie (Marianna Bassham) to block the doors with her power poses, the people keep on coming: the first lady Margaret, trying desperately to convince the public of her “earthiness” by wearing Crocs; the breastfeeding reporter Chris (Catia), eager for a scoop and pumping at every opportunity; the president’s “dalliance” Dusty (Monique Ward Lonergan), who is excited to be carrying the president’s fetus; and the president’s sister Bernadette (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda), a recently released butch lesbian and drug dealer — with a customer base in the secret service — who is trying to get the president to pardon her.

Crystin Gilmore and Marianna Bassham
Monique Ward Lonergan, Marianna Bassham and Catia

It’s hard to say which of these performers is most impressive in portraying the absurdity of her role. All these characters converge in the west wing of the White House, and there is a great deal of yelling, scheming, restraining, and some pretty awesome dance moves, all carried out to a “BitchBeats” soundtrack (Angie Jepson, choreographer and intimacy coordinator; Aubrey Dube, sound) as the women scramble to cover up and mop up (literally at times) the effects of the POTUS’s indiscretions and stupidity.

Laura Latreille and Lisa Yuen
The Cast

They begin as rivals, but ultimately they turn to one another as allies. Several times one of them asks another, “Why aren’t you the president?”, because it’s clear that many of these women (with the possible — and I do mean possible — exceptions of the corrupt sister and the pregnant farmer’s daughter from Iowa) are better suited to the job than the occupant. But as the title suggests, their ultimate job is to keep the president alive—not just politically, but physically. Given breast pumps, Crocs, a hurled bust of feminist Alice Paul, and a rifle, will they succeed in that effort? No spoilers here—you’ll have to see the play to find out. An evening that makes you laugh out loud from the slapstick while driving home a much-needed point is a rarity indeed.

photos courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass
are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Roberts Studio Theatre, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston
ends on October 15, 2023
for tickets (starting at $25), call 617.933.8600 or visit SpeakEasyStage

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