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Turning a Reality-TV Obsession Into Experimental Theatre

By: Billy McEntee
Date: Aug 02, 2018

Two Yale School of Drama students deconstruct their love for The Real Housewives


Andy Cohen, the executive producer of The Real Housewives, recently told Seth Meyers that the Bravo franchise is "an escape from reality." But superfans Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley disagree with that assessment. To these two theatre artists, the Housewives aren't some silly distraction; they're self-made stars practicing a subversive form of empowerment.

"These are women who have capitalized on their oppression," Breslin says. "They're incredibly cunning, incredibly charismatic, and they found a way to profit off of their domesticity by opening their doors and letting the cameras in."

Breslin and Foley's desire to dig beyond the ladies' sparkly facades inspired This American Wife, a multimedia meditation on the Housewives phenomenon, currently running at Next Door at NYTW.

Breslin, a current Yale School of Drama student, and Foley, a 2018 graduate, remember meeting on campus and immediately bonding over their mutual Housewives obsession, quizzing each other on minutiae and binge-watching episodes. When they decided to turn their fixation into a performance piece, it was clear they couldn't use conventional theatrical methods.

"Yale is amazing, but there's a more traditional sense of what theatre and acting is there," Foley says. "Michael worked at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and I graduated from the Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU, so when we got in the room we realized we have a similar approach to making work."

"There was no director and no playwright," Breslin says. "We both did those jobs, but our text would come from a side conversation or improvisation."

Foley agrees. "I would be saying something and Michael would go, 'That was great. I've transcribed the whole thing!'"

As the piece developed, the duo enlisted two dramaturgs to help shape the show, which Breslin says explores, "intimacy, queer friendship, vulnerability and influence through the lens of technology and reality TV."


If that sounds daunting, don't worry: It plays like a comedy. "First we perform moments from The Real Housewives, like scenes for an acting class," Breslin says. "Then we speak the women's lines while the clips roll. Then we remove the audio but keep the iconic Bravo underscoring, and speak the lines while our faces are projected on screens until we're sucked into the show."

Thus Breslin and Foley are remade in the Housewives' image, speaking into cameras, getting drunk on attention and power as their every move is documented. And that prompts them to go more and more over-the-top. Suddenly, their addiction to the show makes sense. As Breslin puts it, the Housewives are "shamed, rewarded and shamed again -- and they become famous for it."

Shame is a major theme in This American Wife as it connects Breslin and Foley to their beloved Housewives. "I feel like there's a lot of humiliation in gay culture," Breslin says. "We're interested in the parallels of that and being a reality TV star, where the job is to be shamed."

As Breslin and Foley start to divulge their own dark secrets, the cameras frame only their lips. Ironically, they become increasingly vulnerable and three-dimensional on stage, the direct opposite of the Housewives, who open themselves up only to gain an upper hand. It's a fascinating juxtaposition of realities that illuminates a poignant note in the program that reads: "The self needs a medium. Who cares who you are when you're alone anymore?"

"The Real Housewives of Orange County has now been on for 12 years, and Vicki Gunvalson has been on it the whole time," Breslin says. "What her real life is has completely blurred at this point. Her life is the show, and the show is her life. You can't escape it."


Follow Billy McEntee at @wjmcentee. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Patrick Foley and Michael Breslin in This American Wife. Photos by Marielle Solan.

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Billy McEntee is a freelance writer and arts journalist. He's the Theater Editor of The Brooklyn Rail, instructs with The School of The New York Times and helps promote shows with shorter runs through Staff Picks (@paffsticks).