Janice Gardner and Chantal King, as the chief of staff and first lady, in “POTUS” at Mad Horse. Photo by Kat Moraros Photography

Though the work taking place at the White House can be deadly serious, occasionally there are elements of farce in what we hear goes on in that hallowed building.

For its 38th season opener, the Mad Horse Theatre Company is presenting “POTUS” (an acronym for President of the United States), a wacky play that provides an absurdly exaggerated look at how White House underlings try to keep things from spinning out of control when the president (who never appears onstage as more than a pair of legs) has been caught being naughty.

Subtitled “Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive,” the 2022 play by Selina Fillinger drops us into the action just after the president has said something quite vulgar about the first lady in front of a group of reporters and diplomats. It’s only the first of many embarrassing things we learn that the man has done.

As the subtitle suggests, the play focuses on a not always cohesive group of seven women, staffers and others, gathered in the West Wing as problems mount, and they become hilariously frantic in their efforts at damage control. The action becomes unremittingly animated, approaching near anarchy by the second act. But there’s a thread of feminism woven throughout the play as the women begin to realize their own power apart from their service to the big man.

Lauren Stockless directs a cast made up of Mad Horse regulars and a few guests on a movable set with many doors through which characters come and go, often yelling and screaming at each other along the way.

Mad Horse veteran Janice Gardner plays the chief of staff, Harriett, who steadily holds the administration together, without much appreciation from the man in the Oval Office. Harriett works closely with press secretary Jean, played by Allison McCall. The often-sardonic exchanges between the two of them provide some of the strongest and most telling laughs early on. In striking performances, both humorously vent while trying to keep their eye on the many challenges before them.

Advertisement

Alyssa Pearl-Ross as a reporter, Noli French as the president’s secretary and Savannah Irish as his sister in “POTUS.” Photo by Kat Moraros Photography

Around the central pair hovers the president’s personal secretary, Stephanie, played by Noli French in a performance that wanders from silly to absurd as her character tries to cope with pressures to remain strong while providing a very specific kind of comfort to her boss. Alyssa Pearl-Ross, as reporter Chris, smells a scandal brewing but must protect her own flank from competitors after the story.

Marie Stewart Harmon’s Dusty adds another angle to the unfolding publicity mess as she arrives with the announcement that she is pregnant with the president’s child. In live-wire performances, she and French offer an infectious song-and-dance interlude as the plot untangles toward the close.

Chantal King plays Margaret, the first lady, a tough survivor who tries to stay one step ahead of her wayward spouse. Savannah Irish plays the president’s sister, Bernadette, who, just out of jail, adds hilarious grit to the proceedings.

Engaging, take-it-to-the-limit performances all around make Mad Horse’s first show of the season a riotous winner.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

Comments are no longer available on this story