Review: feminist farce ‘POTUS’ in Berkeley is trying too hard

Review: feminist farce ‘POTUS’ in Berkeley is trying too hard

The Oval Office gets bent in the cartoonish political satire “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.”

It should be noted that the president doesn’t actually appear in Selina Fillinger’s not-so-frothy feminist farce, which often falls flat in its regional premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. However, the point that the patriarchy is alive and well in American politics is well taken. In this over-the-topical Beltway spoof, seven badass women twist themselves into pretzels daily to make the commander-in-chief look like slightly less of a putz.

Directed by Annie Tippe, this loopy lampoon tries far too hard to tickle the funny bone with its cheesy stock caricatures, nonstop profanity, and dated political zingers. There are numerous bawdy jokes, from phallic gags to a running bit about breastfeeding, but none of the vigorous vulgarity feels particularly edgy. The tart social commentary about gender bias also evokes more wry smiles than full-throttle laughter.

When the POTUS makes a PR gaffe that spins out of control, it’s all hands on deck, from the harried chief of staff Harriett (Deirdre Lovejoy of “The Wire” fame) to the put-upon press secretary (Kim Blanck). They valiantly try to keep the trains running even as disaster lurks in the form of nuclear negotiations and the president’s girlfriend, the ditzy slurpee-guzzling Dusty (a hilarious Stephanie Styles) and his hard-boiled drug-running sister (Allison Guinn) set up camp at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

They both have explosive news to share while a frazzled reporter (Dominique Toney) hunts for a scoop and the Michelle Obama-esque first lady (Stephanie Pope Lofgren) tries hard to look more “earthy.” Doors are slammed, sculptures flung and liaisons launched in hall closets.

Despite a few delicious moments, including the first lady’s passionate ode to the pleasures of hunting game and Dusty’s truly adorable conflict mediation via cheerleading, the shtick too rarely hits its mark here.

Tippe, who also directed the memorable “Octet,” doesn’t keep the pace fast and furious enough and the comic timing often feels off, with some punchlines rushed, and others dragged out way past the point of patience. Farce should feel light and effortless at its best but here the funny lines often feel forced and formulaic.

A gag with a recurring crude name for a female body gets old fast. The ill-fated status of the presidential posterior also features prominently. Both might have tickled if the timing were tighter and sharper.

Indeed, there’s a vague sense of desperation to the sitcom-style shenanigans. The satire seems to be reaching for a bloody revenge fantasy vibe (think of the dream sequence in the 80’s classic “9 to 5” movie) but there’s not enough depth to the characters or their motivations to care about who falls or triumphs.

It’s hard to root for anyone but the selfie-obsessed Dusty, who at least seems genuine in a world ruled by artifice. She notes that any of the women assembled would make a better president than the man in charge. While that is arguably true, this “POTUS” falls short of making us want to cackle about that sad state of affairs or even rage about it. There’s just no laugh-out-loud catharsis to make us feel better.

Contact Karen D’Souza at karenpdsouza@yahoo.com.


‘Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive”

By Selina Fillinger, presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Through: Oct. 22

Where: Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

Running time: 2 hours, one intermission

Tickets: $45-$134; 510-647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org