If “The West Wing” was made into a live stage show, banned all men and snorted a line of coke before the curtain went up, it might look something like “POTUS,” the hyperactive new farce that opened Wednesday on Broadway.
One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission. At the Shubert Theatre, 225 W 44th Street.
Selina Fillinger’s weird and wired comedy imagines a White House fiasco, in which the president — we never meet him or anyone else with a Y chromosome — publicly makes a crass remark about the first lady (Vanessa Williams) and leaves a crew of panicked women staffers to clean up his PR mess.
And what a mess it is. The behind-the-scenes situation immediately spirals out of control way beyond the realm of believability. On Beowulf Boritt’s constantly moving set of rotating rooms and hallways, there’s a death, a drug trip, and gallons of blue-tinted vomit.
At first the romp is engaging, lifted by a truly brilliant cast of comedic actors who embrace and explode the qualities that made them famous. Then, in Act 2, the set-ups become so unwieldy and ludicrous that it turns into an episode of “Hoarders: Broadway Edition.” Somebody needed to come in with gloves and a garbage bag and do some major decluttering.
Sprinting around like it’s the end credits of a “Benny Hill” episode are White House chief of staff Harriet (Julie White), assistant Stephanie (Rachel Dratch), press secretary Jean (Suzy Nakamura), rebel presidential sister Bernadette (Lea DeLaria), dogged reporter Chris (Lilli Cooper) and the piggish prez’s peppy mistress Dusty (Julianne Hough).
The genius Dratch is a riot as a nervous, introverted employee who practices power stances and can’t get a word in edgewise. Then she accidentally downs a bunch of hallucinogenic pills she thought were Tums and goes completely loco. The “SNL” alum running wide-eyed around the theater wearing an inner-tube is the best part of the play. Dratch doesn’t have to work for laughs — she gets them by existing.
As well as Dratch does meek, White rocks frazzled and furious. Her ambitious boss operates like lightning and thunder — there will be an incredulous look soon followed by a roaring shout.
Hough goes full ditz as she slurps boozy slushies — and director Susan Stroman lets her do some signature dancing — while DeLaria is almost a continuance of Big Boo on “Orange Is the New Black.” At the start of the show, she’s released from prison and wears a GPS ankle bracelet. She and Nakamura have silly chemistry as their past fling is dredged up.
Cooper’s journalist has the least to do, which is too bad. Reporters are enjoyable wackos and there surely were some more clever scenarios for her to be thrown into. Why do you think they make so many damn movies about us?
What will appeal to some of about Fillinger’s play — but what also holds it back — is that it’s cranked up to about an 11 from the second the lights go up. The best farces, as well as sit-coms, start with some serene normalcy before everything goes haywire. How can we perceive this world falling apart, and laugh uncontrollably, if we never see it put together? The non-stop high energy desensitizes by Act 2. The ending, by the way, seems like it’s trying to channel the revenge antics of “9 to 5,” — however, it doesn’t stick the landing.
At just two 45-minute acts, though, it’s a fun night out. “POTUS” would just go down a lot smoother with one of Dusty’s 80-proof slushies.