Modern, All-Female Play Full of Laughter and Joy

Modern, All-Female Play Full of Laughter and Joy

City of Fairfax Theatre Co. presents the comedy, ‘POTUS.’

Rehearsing a scene are Caroline Woodson (left) and Heather Plank.

Rehearsing a scene are Caroline Woodson (left) and Heather Plank.

When a public-relations nightmare at the White House turns into a huge mess, seven brilliant and beleaguered women must risk life, liberty and the pursuit of sanity to keep the commander-in-chief out of trouble. That’s the premise behind City of Fairfax Theatre Co.’s new production, “POTUS,” a bawdy and irreverent look at sex, politics and the women in charge of the man in charge of the free world. 

“It’s about the seven women who really run the White House, and it’s their job to contain and handle all the craziness of the president,” said Director Jack Lockrem. “It’s not about a specific person but about the much-larger topics of democracy and leadership. It’s a very funny comedy, and we’re the first community theater to put on this show in Northern Virginia.”

“POTUS” will be performed at Katherine Johnson Middle School, 3801 Jermantown Road in Fairfax. Shows are Friday, Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 3, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 4, at 3 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 10, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 11, at 3 p.m. 

Tickets are $25, adults; and $15, students. The Feb. 9 show is “pay what you can.” Because of mature themes and strong language, it’s not recommended for those under 17.

The cast and crew of 20 have been rehearsing since November. And, said Lockrem, “I’m so lucky to have such amazing actors who breathe life into this show. Every night at rehearsal, they find new ways to make me laugh – and that’s the sign of a strong group of performers.”

The story is set in modern-day, with scenes taking place at various locations within the White House. “It shows how the system of power pits women against each other,” said Lockrem. “But through a series of events, the characters must learn to work together. I love collaborating in rehearsal with some of the funniest and most creative women. And I really feel like we’ve got such an exciting show to share with everybody.”

Portraying Stephanie, the president’s secretary, is 2018 Chantilly High grad Caroline Woodson. “Stephanie’s an anxious, intelligent perfectionist,” said Woodson. “She speaks five languages and is a people-pleaser. In the first act, she has very little power, but that gets flipped in the second act.”

 “I love playing her because she’s goofy but smart,” continued Woodson. “It’s a physical role because she runs around a lot, doing all her tasks. And as the story goes on, she’s running everybody else’s lives – and messing things up.”

Woodson said audiences will enjoy “a behind-the-scenes look at what’s really happening in the government and in women’s lives. And I think it’s probably truer than they want us to know. I encourage people to come have a giggle and a gander at what could be happening in Washington, D.C., just a few miles away.”

Heather Plank plays Harriet, the president’s chief of staff. “She’s power-hungry and has sacrificed her personal life in pursuit of her own ambition to be president,” said Plank. “As a result, her humanity’s become a little warped. 

“As chief of staff, she runs everything. She’s also known the president, his sister and wife for more than 20 years – and they have a long, dark history together. And Harriet helped press-secretary Jean get her job.”

Plank enjoys the challenge of playing a character so different from herself. “I treasure friendship, hobbies and sleep, whereas Harriet is singular in her focus,” she said. “And in a play where we never see any men, the women treat each other differently than I think they might if men were present. There’s more honesty and less diplomacy in their interactions with each other. Audiences will love this show because it’s a wild ride full of inspiring, feminist rage.”

Portraying Jean is Carolyn Young, who describes her character as “a little tense and high-strung, at times, and focused on getting the job done. She’s super-fast-paced, direct and no muss, no fuss. Most of the time, she’s good at her job. But she has a lot to deal with professionally, with the events happening around her, so it’s becoming a struggle. She’s an idealistic person trying to figure out what the heck is going on in this administration – and how the heck she ended up here.”

Young loves her role because she’s similar to Jean in that she, too, doesn’t mince words. “Jean’s funny, too, and comedy’s my thing. And this play’s so well-written that all the parts are fabulous. It’s also hilarious; the opening line sets the tone, and it takes off from there. 

“Women are often cast into supporting roles in life when, in fact, as Ginger Rogers said, they can basically do everything men can, but ‘backwards and in high heels.’ Women working harder than men – and sometimes accomplishing more than they do, but for little or no credit – is a significant theme of the play.”

Aja Goode plays Chris, a reporter covering the White House for Time magazine. “Chris is ambitious and trying to re-establish herself after taking some time off to be with her kids and while going through a divorce,” said Goode. “She’s writing a profile on the First Lady and the work she’s doing. She’s friendly but firm and businesslike. She sticks up for herself and won’t be walked on; she’s protective of her work and family.”

Goode likes her part because, since she’s not a mom, it lets her tap into how it must be to balance a job and family. “In the first act, she’s all business,” said Goode. “But in the second act, she lets loose and tells a co-worker what’s really on her mind – including personal things about her unhappy marriage. She gets provoked, and everything she’s been holding in comes out.”

“There are great, comedic moments from all the characters, in both their lines and physicality,” continued Goode. “This is a feminist show that’s unique in that women are telling this story about the presidency – which we normally think of as more influenced by men. There’s a line at the end hopefully predicting that women throughout the world have the power to challenge systems of oppression, such as patriarchy. It also hopes that one day there may be a more inclusive society in which women play more integral roles in the places where decisions are made.”

Juanisha Brooks portrays Margaret, the First Lady. “She’s a highly accomplished woman who wears many hats,” said Brooks. “She’s graduated from both Stanford and Harvard and is a lawyer. Her main issues are progressive ones like child hunger, but she can also be stern. She’s powerful and not one to be messed with – a good person, but tough.”

“I love playing Margaret because, as an African American woman, I like that the playwright wrote this part specifically for a Black woman,” said Brooks. “It shows that Black women can hold high-powered roles and do well in them. Representation is important, and I want to show other African American women that we’re capable of leading in the White House and onstage.”

Overall, she said, “People will love the laughter and joy this play brings. Though we cover complicated subjects, everyone will leave feeling uplifted. This show’s also timely and relevant because it’s coming out during election season without focusing on one political party. And doing it in Fairfax City – where many residents have worked for the federal government and can relate to this play – makes it truly special.”