By Perry Tannenbaum
Bravo, Charlotte! After missing the boat on Bravo’s cable TV franchise of Real Housewives reality TV shows – now spinning out Real Housewives of Orange County, Atlanta, New York City, Jersey, Beverly Hill and others – the Queen City has hopped aboard a theatrical Real-ish franchise on a whirlwind tour. Detroit, San Diego, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Des Moines have already sampled the satiric backlash. When the six-member cast of The Realish Housewives of Charlotte barreled into Booth Playhouse, it was sufficiently armed with the lowdown on the metro area to dish out plenty of gasps and belly laughs.
The whole scene surprised me. With hardly a scrap of publicity, nearly every seat in the orchestra and balcony was sold out, filled mostly with avid women who had this set-up figured out before I could begin to get the hang of it. When Jackson Evans comes out as our host, Randy Bowen, it looks like Realish is a talkshow. The couches flanking him and the logotype behind him practically scream it out.
But the studio where we’re ostensibly filming the upcoming season actually serves as a substitute for those scenes on the Real series where we see the regulars profiled – or commenting cattily on action we’ve just seen. So the opening scene introduces us to the ladies – only one of whom seems to be a housewife. Ravonka claims to be married to “the baron,” but there hasn’t been a sighting of this queen bee’s globetrotting husband in years. So when Lori McClain ladles on her Russian accent, she’s apparently not evoking a Trump wife.
A rich wife, yes, for Ravonka dangles the possibility of an exotic getaway to all the others, including the tall and slim newcomer, Brooke. She’s apparently a business barracuda, quick to resent Ravonka’s superior attitude and become her adversary – even to the extent of rejecting the idea of the free vacation at Ravonka’s expense. More than one of the scenes to come will stop dead in its tracks so that Lindsey Pearlman as Brooke and McClain can have a lethal stare-down. The pushy entrepreneur makes a living out of alterations to women’s jeans that make her the butt of Ravonka’s slights.
Opposites in their way, Gwen and Desiree aren’t part of the drama. Desiree is a neck model and a fro-yo addict, and Emjoy Gavino gives her all the squeaky kookiness you’d expect from such a airhead. It’s neat that the other gals take Desiree’s addiction so seriously that they stage an intervention. Gwen, a City Councilwoman who served time for her misdeeds as a Mayor Cannon advisor, takes herself more seriously than all the others combined. All of the women seem to host at least one of the scenes, with nothing more than a lighting change to take us there in flashback.
Desiree’s event is a neck photo shoot, of course – and Gwen’s, inevitably, is a fundraiser for a worthy cause, and Katie Caussin gives her such a starchy rectitude that, for a while, you might actually believe it’s real. Played by Katy Carolina Collins with a Myers Park girl-next-door wholesomeness, C.L. is the only housewife in the bunch. She found her husband out in the audience on opening night, an unsuspecting Andy who played along enthusiastically as soon as C.L. drew in range.
While the script by Kate James and Tim Sniffen is more often about filling in the blanks with deftly researched local dirt – notorious local scandal here, nearby backwater worthy of ridicule there – space is left open for improv when the audience is engaged. All of the cast members are Chicagoans, and a couple of them have toured with The Second City, a wellspring of American sketch and improv comedy for over 50 years. When Randy revealed that Ravonka’s secret daughter, Prosecco, was sitting out in the audience, McClain’s shtick was very much in her Second City vein, clever and quick, when Prosecco spat out what she had been caught stealing at school.
Elaborately phony air-kisses are dispensed by the dozen, triggering the overall kiss-and-tell formula of Realish Housewives , but it wouldn’t be the same – or last entire seasons, if you think about it – if there weren’t epic reconciliations after the epic feuds. Or punctuating those feuds, which come back in coming episodes and seasons like fleas. Here the climactic confrontation between Ravonka and Brooke ends in mutual understanding and the customary post-mortems. It’s all so deliciously catty, trivial, insincere, and emotional that the audience couldn’t get enough of it.
I even peeped in on Bravo the following night. Yeah, this trash can be habit-forming.