Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Realish Housewives of Edina
From the model of "The Real World" came the "Real Housewives" franchise, a collection of series on Bravo TV that bring together a group of wealthy women in upscale locales who form and destroy bonds with one another, and have the ever-rolling camera film their life-shaking upheavals around such topics as sex, drugs, alcohol, health, family, friends, money, and fashion. Lest anyone suggest such shows are a purely American affair, there are now "Housewives" shows in Greece, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, France, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Which brings us to The Realish Housewives of Edina, bringing the franchise to the Twin Cities to prove that Minnesota has its share of spoiled, self-obsessed gals. The house at the small New Century Theatre has been arranged cabaret style, with bistro tables between the chairs, this to encourage the transfer of merchandise from the extremely busy lobby bar into the theater. No doubt this contributes to the fun to be had; the audience with whom I saw the show had a ball.
Why realish, rather than real? Aside from the desire to avoid copyright infringement, the title says, hey, these are not truly what real women in Minnesotaeven in as tony an enclave as Edinaare like, the "ish" signifies playfulness, that we are having a good time with the concept. Fair enough, though don't think that the actual "Real Housewives" shows mean to present a true sampling of life in their communities either. Their "housewives" audition for their roles, and no doubt are selected largely for their outsize personalities and the current or probable bag of drama-laden issues crammed in their Coach purses and Lulu Lemon gym bags.
The play, written by Kate James and Tim Sniffen, brings together five recognizable types under the puffery of exaggeration. Gwen (Katherine Kupiecki) is a power-hungry political operative who has served a bit of prison time for corruption, but is back on the fund-raising, office-seeking trail. Brooke (Anna Hickey) is a self-made woman who (gasp!) actually has to work, her success based on her collection of products with sayings embroidered on the seat of women's attireshe calls it "butt-writing." Claudia-Louise (Quinn Shadko) who, with a sneer, tells the host of the series she is to be called "C.L.," is a woman who has achieved the pinnacle of her life by way of her wonderful, unshakable marriagealbeit, her third time at the altarand her beautiful children. Can anyone doubt that C.L. will have that conceit put to the test?
Desiree (Karissa Lade) is the group's resident airhead, proud to be a successful neck model, but with an addiction that must be addressed. Last but by no means least is Ravonka (Kim Kivens), a matron with an indeterminate eastern European accent whose husband, the Baron, is constantly away doing philanthropic work, and whose teenage daughter is being raised by an elite boarding school. Ravonka appoints herself the arbiter of everyone else's affairs, from morality to fashion choices. The cast is completed with Randy (Adan Varela), the smarmy TV host of Realish Housewives, who also plays brief spots such as the ladies' trainer and a new-age healing guide.
Over the course of two acts (allowing plenty of time during intermission to refill the glassware on those bistro tables) these housewives form and destroy friendships, reveal dark secrets, attend parties, strive for self-actualization, and say nasty things behind one another's backs. The play makes great use of such reality TV staples as the spot-lit interview where one of the housewives bears her soul, and the cutting remark from one housewife to another followed by a two-note musical warning to the effect of "this means war!."
The play, as written, is actually quite funny. Lots of good laugh lines are woven into the insipid multiple plots. Particularly good fun comes during Gwen's fundraiser for victims of Kurain. What is Kurain? I won't spill the beans. There is also a totally goofy (in a good way) addiction treatment scene, and good-natured use of audience participation fills in the part of a missing character.
The cast are all game, and their comedy chops greatly help turn the corner from silly bauble to insightful parody. Kim Kivens as Ravonka stands out, going over-the-top in a role that calls exactly for that, and Anna Hickey brings special strength to Ravonka's nemesis, Brooke. Matt Miller has directed to effectively combine the wit of the parody with obvious affection for the source material. There is a pretty high quotient of camp in the proceedings, but not so much as to descend into tawdriness. It always remains fun.
The Realish Housewives of Edina can be a good time out, especially for those not seeking much in the way of meaning or artfulness, but who appreciate solid laughs and a bit of a wink at ourselves. There are too many hometown references to make the play transportable out of Minnesota, but those also contribute to the fun. Perhaps making full use of those bistro tables helps too.
The Realish Housewives of Edina is presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust. It continues through November 15, 2015, at the New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $34.50. For tickets call 612-455-9525 or go to www.hennepintheatretrust.org.
Writers: Kate James and Tim Sniffen; Director: Matt Miller; Set and Props Designer: Theresa Akers; Costume Designer: Suzanna Schneider; Lighting Designer: Monica DeRee; Sound Designer: Katherine Horowitz; Stage Manager: Rachael Rhoades; Assistant Stage Managers: Alix Engels and Zakary Morton.
Cast: Anna Hickey (Brooke), Kim Kivens (Ravonka), Katherine Kupiecki (Gwen), Karissa Lade (Desiree), Quinn Shadko (Claudia-Louise), Adan Varela (Randy)