🎭 The White House is a Farce | “POTUS” @ Geffen Playhouse

POTUS (Geffen Playhouse)The West Wing was never like this. Or, perhaps given some recent presidents, it was — and it was covered up well. After all, I’m sure the White House staff is great at covering up from the gaffes of the President. One thing is definitely for certain—this wasn’t like last week’s train wreck.  For unlike last week where it was clearly a you either loved it or didn’t get it affair (and we weren’t alone on that — Stage and Cinema talked about how the show “devolves into a self-indulgent tangent that meanders without direction”; whereas McNulty at the Times talks about how “irony and egotism are blended like a fine Bordeaux”), POTUS, or more properly POTUS, or Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, currently at the Geffen Playhouse through February 25, was uproariously funny. This is a show well worth seeing.

POTUS tells the story of seven women in the White House, all of whom are working or in the orbit of the President of the United States (POTUS). This POTUS doesn’t correspond to any particular POTUS, although he clearly is an amalgam of quite a few of the recent inhabitants of that position. I can think of certain recent POTUS (POTUSes? POTII?) that were clearly the model for the playwright, Selina Fillinger, although they are never named. But the focus of this story is not the specifics of the man (who is never really seen), but the women behind him and how they deal with the consequences of his actions. These women are: Harriet, his Chief of Staff, Jean, his Press Secretary; Stephanie, his Secretary; Margaret, his wife; Chris, a reporter; and Dusty and Bernadette, two women more in the personal orbit of the man.

The show opens with a SNAFU where the President refers to his wife with a slang term sure to upset … and the situation devolves from there into a broad farce. That this show is a farce means a number of things theatrically. First, it means that the show is not intended to have meaningful character arcs or show character growth (do the characters grow or learn anything in Noises Off or The Play That Goes Wrong?). Second, the character archetypes are painted with a broad, almost caricatureish brush, somewhat stereotypical even. This means that they are clearly not intended to be fully realistic portrayals of real competent women. They are women designed for the comedy  potential of the positions, with certain characteristics overdrawn for the humor. For a farce, one needs to suspend that belief. Farces are rarely realistic.

After all, a President would never fuck up. A President would never call people names. A President would never do things that would insult and offend our allies. A President would never fool around with other women while in office. A President would never have siblings whose behavior would embarrass the office. That would never happen, right? The President’s office would never be a farce, right?

I won’t spoil the plot of this show, as that could rob the show of a lot of the humor (which is in the discovery of just how fucked up this POTUS is). I will say that the cast of the show is remarkable, and are spot-on in terms of both timing and comic characterization. I’m not sure I can single out one performance over any of the others; they were all great. Jennifer Chamber’s direction was impeccably timed (again, something that is key for any farce to succeed), and worked well to bring out humor.

This show is well worth seeing.

A few last notes, before the credits: First, if you choose to park next door in the parking lot  under the Chick-Fil-A, be forewarned. It is a horrid lot, with really tight turns. Do remember to pay at the pay machines before  you go to your car to leave. Make life better for others. It took me a half-hour to clear that lot because of the clueless folks who waited to pay until they were at the gate, and then couldn’t figure out that the credit card goes in a different slot from the ticket. Second, it was really sad to drive up Westwood Blvd to the theatre and see all the empty storefronts. When I went to UCLA in the late 1970s, Westwood was this vibrant student town with quirky shops and great restaurants. It then got mall-ified, and then greedy landlords jacked up rents and priced distinctive shops out. Now it is empty, and doesn’t serve anyone. It’s sad, and the landlords need to realize that it is better to have someone in your storefront paying a moderate something, than an empty storefront with an unrealized potential that may never happen.

POTUS, or Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. Written by Selina Fillinger. Directed by Jennifer Chambers. Cast: Ito Aghayere Chris; Alexandra Billings Margaret; Lauren Blumenfeld Stephanie; Shannon Cochran Harriet; Celeste Den Jean; Jane Levy Dusty; Deirdre Lovejoy Bernadette. Understudies: Lorene Chesley Margaret / Chris; Joy Donze Stephanie / Dusty / Bernadette; Desirée Mee Jung Jean; Elaine Rivkin Harriet. Production and Creative Team: Brett J. Banakis Set & Video Design; Samantha C. Jones Costume Design; Elizabeth Harper Lighting Design; Lindsay Jones Original Music & Sound Design; Emily Moler Assoc. Director; Julie Ouellette Fight Director; Amanda Rose Villarreal Intimacy Director; Olivia O’Connor Dramaturg; Darlene Miyakawa Production Stage Manager; Colleen Danaher Asst. Stage Manager; Phyllis Schuringa, CSA Casting Director. This is not a tour of the recent Broadway production; it is a local Geffen remounting of the show.

POTUS continues at the Geffen Playhouse through February 25. Tickets are available through the Geffen Playhouse Website; discount tickets are likely available through the usual places. Note that the show has very strong language and themes, and is not for children.

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Administrivia: I am not a professional critic. I’m a cybersecurity professional, a roadgeek who does a highway site and a podcast about California Highways, and someone who loves live performance. I buy all my own tickets, unless explicitly noted otherwise. I do these writeups to share my thoughts on shows with my friends and the community. I encourage you to go to your local theatres and support them (ideally, by purchasing full price tickets, if you can afford to do so). We currently subscribe or have memberships at: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre; Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages Theatre; Pasadena Playhouse; Geffen Playhouse (Mini-Subscription); 5-Star Theatricals. We’re looking for the right intimate theatre to subscribe at — it hasn’t been the same since Rep East died (it’s now The Main, and although it does a lot of theatre, it doesn’t have seasons or a resident company), and post-COVID, most 99-seaters aren’t back to doing seasons (or seasons we like). I used to do more detailed writeups; here’s my current approach.

Upcoming Theatre – Next 90ish Days:

On the Theatrical Horizon:

There are a few shows for which announcements have crossed my transom that may be of interest: The CSUN Theatre Department in Northridge will be doing the Spongebob Musical in April 2024. We really wanted to see this when it was on tour in 2020, but the tour was killed by COVID; we did drive up to Woodland CA to see a friend in a community theatre production of it. It is a great show about science and climate denial. Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse in Woodland Hills will be doing Hands on a Hardbody in May 2024. CSH announced this back in 2020, but it was killed by COVID; I’m glad to see it will be back (and with a friend in the cast, even). Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica has announced their Mainstage 2024 Season, and it includes Bat Boy the Musical running Sept 28 through October 18. We saw Bat Boy back when CSUN did it in 2014; it is a wonderful musical about how a society treats outsiders. Conundrum Theatre Company will be doing Urinetown The Musical in mid to late March 2024 at the Broadwater; this is a great musical, but we can’t fit it into the schedule (nor does my wife care to see it again). However, if you haven’t seen it, it is worth seeing.

Second: Broadway Dallas just announced their season. I like to look at the announcements of other “presenting houses” (i.e., regional theatres that specialize in touring productions) to get an idea of what will be coming to Broadway in Hollywood or the Ahmanson. Broadway Dallas’ season included the following shows that haven’t yet been in Los Angeles: ShuckedBack to the Future – The Musical& Juliet; and Life of Pi. Other shows that I know will be touring are a new remounting of Beauty and the Beast (lukewarm on this, but I’m sure it will be at least an option at Broadway in Hollywood) and the recent production of Parade. According to Playbill and some other sources, other upcoming tour productions (that haven’t been announced for the LA area) are Kimberly Akimbo; the new revival of Sweeny ToddA Beautiful NoiseSome Like It Hot; and New York, New York. I hope How to Dance in Ohio tours, but perhaps there will be a regional mounting; Harmony should be seen and I also hope it tours, but we saw it in a pre-Broadway version almost 10 years ago.


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