A fast, furious and funny political play comes to Queen Street Playhouse — POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive. The play follows seven women, the inner circle of an unnamed U.S. president, after a presidential PR blunder spins into an international crisis.
This regional premiere of the play by Selina Fillinger has a special tie to Charleston. West Ashley native David Lynch, a 25-year-old who recently won a Tony Award for his work on Parade, was part of the original producing team, which debuted the play on Broadway in April 2022 with a star-studded cast.
The comedy features seven Charleston actors including Ari Snowden, who plays the first lady, and Sam Smith, who plays the chief of staff. Sarah Callahan Black portrays the role of the president’s mistress with Imani Lloyd as the press secretary.
In the play’s first scene, the president utters a four-letter word that sets an avalanche of events into motion. It’s up to those seven exasperated women to undertake damage control.
“That first moment in the show, just sit and take it in,” Snowden said. “And then, get ready for a wild ride that’s coming. These seven women are trying to handle a crisis that just kind of keeps building upon itself. Something goes wrong, and something else goes wrong, and it just gets bigger and bigger and to a point where we almost can’t contain it.”
Sam Smith, a longtime performer with the Footlight Players, said the show’s dialogue is fast-paced and heated.
“It goes back and forth, with all of us talking over each other,” she said. “And more than a political play, this show is a farce about the absurdity of how one word uttered by the president can change the whole world.”
Her character Maragret, the chief of staff, is so competent that the president’s sister asks his press secretary at one point why she isn’t president instead of him (in a line that routinely garnered standing ovations on Broadway). The press secretary bluntly replies, “That’s the eternal question, isn’t it?”
Smith said, “I think Maragret feels that everything is just one step away from exploding, constantly. She’s always one step away from a breakdown. And I think, if she keeps it together, she thinks she can kind of ascend beyond this role.”
Despite the fact that the play revolves around the president, he never actually appears on stage, a choice by the playwright Fillinger to show the invisible work women do — at home, in boardrooms and, yes, in the White House.
“I think it’s really important that we never see him,” Snowden said, “because honestly, he is irrelevant to this whole story. Yes, he’s the face of the nation, but really, he’s like a puppet. We, the women of his cabinet, are creating all of the scenarios in which he’s walking in.”
Though it tackles serious issues, both Smith and Snowden agreed the play is meant to make you laugh — no matter which side of the political spectrum you lean towards.
“There’s even an element of almost slapstick to what’s going on on stage,” Smith said. “It’s fun, it’s wacky and out of control.”
POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive is on stage at the Queen Street Playhouse Aug. 18 through Sept. 3. Tickets start at $40 at footlightplayers.net.
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