Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Inspired by the various "Real Housewives of ... " series broadcast on the Bravo television channel, where a gaggle of glam gals reveal their deepest darkest secrets behind the bejeweled, stylishly-coifed, well-tanned façade of their happy homemaker lives. The rigged format of these series, the over-the-top excess of the housewives' lives, and outlandish plot developments are sitting ducks for creators of parodies. Writers Kate James and Tim Sniffen have taken aim at those ducks and whipped their quarry into a tasty dish, drenched in tangy sauce and stuffed with jokes and whacky escapades that make up for lack of any substance. In other words, there's nothing there except a good time.
Four of the five housewives from Season 1 are back. You will remember (certainly, who could forget) Ravonka, the self-appointed doyenne of the group, with her unspecific eastern European accent, who, at the end of Season 1 had lost her husband to a gay lover and been disowned by her prep-school attending teenage daughter; Claudia Louise, or C.L., whose husband was the gay lover that hooked up with Ravonka's ex; Brooke, a self-made businesswoman out to prove a woman can have it all; and Gwen, the unscrupulous politician who was on her way to serving time in prison. The only non-returnee is Desiree, the "neck model" who died in a tragic fall from the Spoon and Cherry sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, proving that she had not fully overcome her addiction to frozen yogurt. Fortunately, Desiree's twin sister Delilah shows up and is welcomed by the others with open claws. Delilah is very much like her dear departed sister, except where Desiree was a neck model, Delilah is a brain surgeon.
Season 2 brings Gwen back from serving time at St. Cloud Correctional Facilitywhere so much happened, she repeatedly assertsand has gotten back on the political horse by becoming mayor of Edina. Brooke, in her quest to be uber-woman, has married and had a babylittle Beyoncewhom she treats as the ultimate fashion accessory during the brief mommy times scheduled between her five nannies. C.L has compensated for the demise of her marriage by diving deeper than ever into the abyss of motherhood. Ravonka, determined to carry on, decided a new look would give her a fresh start, so she had a bit of work done. Actually, she had an avalanche of work done, so much that she is completely unrecognized by anyone (even her precious puppy) until she speaks, releasing her fractured accent. To make the point, a different actress, with very different looks and physique, plays Ravonka in Season 2.
That last point leads us to one of the limitations to the Housewives return visit. Quite a few of the jokes refer back to the first outing, and though the script goes to pains to provide some of that backstory, it's not the same as having been there. The other limitation is that many of the jokes are very specific to the Twin Citiesnames of restaurants, stores, neighborhoods, eventshumor that is based on familiarity and the pleasure derived in poking fun at local sacred cows, rather than wit or reflection on the broader human condition. But, if you can accept the idea that shallow entertainment can be, well, entertaining (which works for a large percent of network TV), there shouldn't be any problem.
The four returning actressesAnna Hickey as Brooke, Katherine Kupiecki as Gwen, Karissa Lade as Delilah, and Quinn Shadko as C.L.all jump right back into character, with performances that are a few notches higher than sketch comedy, but play to the broad caricatures these woman are meant to be. Sierra Schermerhorn gives a good performance as the "new, improved" Ravonka. Her eastern-European accent vanishes for stretches, but if we accept the distinct possibility that Ravonka is faking the accent, this actually works.
Adan Varela also returns as the TV host of Realish Housewives of Edina, back in smarmy form, relishing every opportunity to stir up discord among these "best friends" and drooling over their emotional highs and lows. Varela also steps in as Delilah's brain surgery patient, whose consultation with his doctor is crashed by the housewives, and a decidedly questionable psychic who reveals their future. Aside from those wacky scenes, we get to peek in on such scandals at Brooke's baby's disastrous christening, meet Gwen's surprising new flame, see the sugar-sweet Delilah show her true colors, watch Ravonka launch her new career as a life coach, and cheer C.L on as she decides between candidates for the new man in her lifethe latter two involving audience participation.
The seating at the New Century is again arranged around bistro tables, the better to put oneself in a "Real Housewives" frame of mind. Matt Greseth directs the whole shebang as a laugh fest, not trying to invest anything meaningful or incisive commentary into the proceedings. The stage set is a direct parody of the TV programs, and the costumes suggest the quest for style and glamour, without really achieving either.
Leaving the theater, it is tempting to believe that nothing is more important than whether Ravonka's pampered pooch will ever recognize her again, or crooked Gwen can avoid another jail sentence, but the truth is, none of this matters. If these were real people, it still wouldn't matter, which is probably the only serious point that the show has to offer. The actual troubles of the world are still out there, and the fantasy of "Realish Housewife" problems soon fades. But with abundant laughs and good-natured pokes at the way we live, The Realish Housewives of Edina makes for a nice, even welcome, time out from the actual real world. I'm already looking forward to season three.
The Realish Housewives of Edina - Season 2 continues through April 15, 2017, at the New Century Theatre, 615 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $33.00, $20.00 student and educator rush tickets with ID (2 per ID), one hour before performance time. For tickets call 612-455-9525 or go to hennepintheatretrust.org/events.
Writers: Kate James and Tim Sniffen; Director: Matt Greseth; Set Design: Theresa Akers; Costume Design: Suzanna Schneider; Lighting Designer: Monica DeRee; Sound Designer: Nate Hessburg; Prop Design: Sarah Salisbury; Season Two Original Lyrics: Doug Neithercott; Season Two Original Music and Sound Design: Justin Fowler; Stage Manager: Shannon Hessburg; Assistant Director: Caroline Donnelly.
Cast: Anna Hickey (Brooke), Katherine Kupiecki (Gwen), Karissa Lade (Delilah), Sierra Schermerhorn (Ravonka); Quinn Shadko (Claudia-Louise), Dillon Spurlin (Stage Hand), Adan Varela (Randy)