The new play by 27-year-old newcomer Selina Fillinger is a rare thing on Broadway.
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A certain funny girl might have been the most anticipated revival to hit Broadway this spring, but there's seven funny women starring in a new play a few blocks over that are stealing the show.

POTUS, or Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive is a rare thing on Broadway — a new play by a 27-year-old newcomer, Selina Fillinger, that opened without any major out of town try-outs or workshops. You'd never know it from the well-oiled laugh riot that officially opened on May 1.

It takes place over one drug-fueled, wild ride of a day in the White House, opening on Chief of Staff Harriet (Tony winner Julie White) and Press Secretary Jean (Suzy Nakamura) trying to minimize the damage after the President called his wife, Margaret (a deliciously haughty Vanessa Williams) a "see you next Tuesday" in front of foreign diplomats and the press.

POTUS
'POTUS' on Broadway is a foulmouthed political funhouse farce
| Credit: Paul Kolnik

From there things spiral out of control, as the President's pregnant mistress Dusty (a revelatory Julianne Hough), his convicted felon sister, Bernadette (Lea Delaria), and a seasoned reporter hungry for a story, Chris (Lilli Cooper) descend on the White House. There's also meek presidential secretary Stephanie (Rachel Dratch), who is unquestionably out of her depth but trying her darnedest to find her confidence through a "Bitch Beats" playlist and a series of power poses.

It's The Women meets House of Cards, a spot-on feminist spearing of political posturing, arrogant men, and the women who keep things running behind the scenes. The ensemble cast boasts a murderer's row of talent, and it's nearly impossible to choose performances to single out here.

But Julianne Hough is particularly mesmerizing, transforming the role of a blonde ditzy mistress into a wry, winking figure with unexpected depths. She walks the tightrope of vapid floozy and perceptive, sex positive goddess with a nimbleness that defies expectations. After endearing herself to audiences on Dancing With the Stars, she made a run at movie stardom as a fresh-faced ingenue in projects such as Rock of Ages and a remake of Footloose. Nothing quite took, but it's obvious here that she simply needed the right material (and perhaps the guiding hand of legendary director Susan Stroman) to come into her own. Dusty could easily be a mere stereotype, but she surprises at every turn.

POTUS
Credit: Paul Kolnik

That's not to say the other performances aren't equally as marvelous. Dratch is hysterical as the mild-mannered Stephanie, a woman who could be related to her SNL creation of Debbie Downer, until she accidentally takes drugs and unleashes something wild and feral within her soul. Dratch sells Stephanie's bad trip with unfettered abandon.

White and Nakamura are a dynamic duo as Harriet and Jean, their foul-mouthed verbal acuity belying real hurt and want that slowly emerges amidst the madness. Williams has basically perfected the comedic ice queen at this point. Delaria steals scenes as the play's bull in the china shop, a woman who is both an agent of chaos and perhaps the wisest among them. And Cooper is the stalwart figure of sanity at the play's center, the audience's lifeline as the White House falls down around her (but that doesn't mean she doesn't also deliver some rapid invectives and get a must-be-seen-to-be-believed physical bit involving a breast pump).

Stroman and Fillinger wisely ease the audiences into these characters by kicking things off with two and three person scenes, before expanding into action that makes room for the entire ensemble, barely giving any of these women a moment to breath. Stroman, herself a musical theater veteran, wisely ties it all up with musical numbers that showcase just how incomparable this cast really is.

POTUS
Credit: Paul Kolnik

Fillinger's script views politics behind-the-scenes as a twisted carnival, a zany, mad ride that you might never want to get off. This is underscored by Beowulf Boritt's merry-go-round of a set, transforming the offices, bathrooms, and official meeting rooms of the White House into a carousel that rotates its way through an ever-more-dizzying array of madcap scenarios.

POTUS is a farce. Full stop. The likelihood that you will laugh until your face hurts is one of near certainty. But that doesn't mean the play doesn't still have something compelling to say amidst the unstoppable hilarity punctuated by artful spews of profanity.

We never actually see the president, despite the fact that the play revolves around him. Any other men that enter into the action also remain silent and off-stage. All while these seven women panic, problem solve, and ultimately, come together to solve a crisis. It's a sobering reminder of the invisible work women do — at home, in boardrooms, and yes, in the White House. A pointed subversion when their labor becomes the only thing we can bear witness to.

POTUS
Credit: Paul Kolnik

In the show's final moments, Bernadette remarks that it's not that voters like the president, so much as they're scared of the alternative. When questioned as to what or who that is, she replies simply, "Us."

The women in Fillinger's play are messy, chaotic, crude, and morally questionable. But more importantly, they're powerful and real. The action may be that of farce, but the panoply of women feels thrillingly familiar.

It's a breath of fresh air on Broadway in a spring season dominated by the ghosts of producers' bad behavior and lackluster entries from once feted male playwrights. Maybe Broadway too is simply afraid of the alternative — but POTUS is a brilliant reminder of what can happen when you put women in charge. And let them make you laugh. A

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