‘POTUS’ Broadway Review: The President Can’t Be Held Responsible for This Mess

Vanessa Williams, Rachel Dratch, Lea DeLaria, Julie White, Julianne Hough and others find themselves trapped in a political farce

Lilli Cooper, Rachel Dratch and Vanessa Williams in "POTUS" (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

The 21st century finally has its “Moose Murders.”

As if her two stage collaborations with Mel Brooks weren’t enough to make her the Vulgarian of Broadway, director-choreographer Susan Stroman followed “The Producers” and “Blazing Saddles” with “Big Fish,” which featured dancing elephant buttocks, and “Bullets Over Broadway,” which featured dancing hot-dog penises. It’s fitting that Stroman should direct Selina Fillinger’s new comedy, “POTUS,” which opened Wednesday at the Shubert Theatre. It’s a play that finds humor in suppositories, an anal abscess, dildos, scat, pus from that aforementioned abscess and a character who vomits blue puke. The blue-puke projectile happens twice, maybe three times. After that, the character just dry-heaves a lot for our amusement.

No surprise, “POTUS” is set in the White House. The big surprise is how much its subtitle “Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive” misleads. Here, it’s not the president but his wife (Vanessa Williams), lesbian sister (Lea DeLaria), paramour (Julianne Hough), a female reporter (Lilli Cooper) and his female staff (Rachel Dratch, Suzy Nakamura, and Julie White) who are the real incompetents.

Beowulf Boritt’s massive West Wing set goes round and round, featuring everything from the chief of staff’s office to the ladies’ loo, but its ultimate effect is to scatter the comedy all over the place. Williams has the least to do and doesn’t look happy doing it. White tries especially hard, screaming to the point that she gives a pretty good vocal imitation of Harvey Fierstein. And Cooper may be the first actor to use breast pumps on a Broadway stage.

Dratch has a fun moment early in Act 1 when she accidentally ingests a lot of hallucinogens and can’t find the ground she’s walking on. In Act 2, she’s still tripping but now covered in stage blood and multi-colored Post-Its, and wearing a big pink innertube. Since Boritt’s spinning set wore out its novelty in the previous act, Stroman sends Dratch into the audience to distract, followed by a few other actors, who look as if they’re really trying to escape the theater.

Hough also manages to entertain. It’s refreshing to see a character break through the glass ceiling of political correctness with such determination. Maybe only a female director and a female playwright would have the courage to feature a pregnant character vomit repeatedly, then perform (offstage) fellatio on a couple of Secret Service men, who turn out to be disabled war veterans (one blind, the other an amputee), before performing cartwheels and the splits on stage. As a critic, I live to write sentences like that.