If “The Realish Housewives of Charlotte” has any basis in fact, we’re going to have to rename our neighborhoods Liars Park, Elushabeth, Snarkley Downs and Ballanwhine.
But I think the “ish” – not to mention the words “a parody” in the playbill – provide the clues. In a world of phony “reality” shows on television, this stage comedy at Booth Playhouse remains authentically unreal.
The show had a world premiere in Minneapolis last fall as “Realish Housewives of Edina” (an affluent suburb southwest of that city). The national tour came here from Des Moines and goes back to Boston at the end of the month, and you have to admire the facility with which the six actors learn local references.
They don’t simply drop in a SouthPark Mall or NASCAR Hall of Fame reference to show topicality, and they get points for making no Gastonia jokes at all. They go deep: One of the characters is linked to ex-mayor Patrick Cannon in a fraud scheme, and there’s a reference to Sen. Thom Tillis’ anxiety about hand-washing in public rest rooms. (Look it up.)
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It’s timely, too. Host Randy Bowen (Jackson Evans) greeted the audience returning for Act 2 Tuesday by asking “Who went and bought drinks? You could afford it. These tickets are cheaper than ‘Book of Mormon’ ” – which is playing downstairs in Belk Theater this week.
Randy has come to air footage culled for the first episode of a new TV show, “The Realish Housewives of Charlotte.” The actresses re-enact events from the past year in “footage” – that’s clearly delineated – then gather on the studio couch to reflect.
Desiree (Emjoy Gavino), a professional neck model, rhapsodizes squeakily over frozen yogurt. C.L. (Katy Carolina Collins), the only one who seems to have a husband, depicts herself as a ideal homemaker. Political hustler Gwen (Katie Caussin) sees every event in life as an opportunity for profit, personal or governmental.
Businesswoman Brooke (Lindsey Pearlman) obsesses over her new company, which I won’t describe for fear of spoiling a joke. She’s at odds with Baroness Ravonka (Lori McClain), who’s so egotistical that her three volumes of autobiography have been titled “Ravonka,” “Ravonka: I’m Back” and “Ravonka: I’m Back (with Billy Graham).” All five actresses perform well and ad-lib quickly and gracefully.
You can’t satirize reality TV, which is such a snarl of falsehoods and manipulation that only the densest boob could think it’s real. (It’s about as credible as professional wrestling.) So “Realish” wants us to laugh more at the vanities of the Ravonkas and Gwens we see around us, hosting charity events to boost their self-esteem and trying to forget the meaninglessness of their lives with ritzy vacations.
You might easily write this off as a show exclusively for women, though it was written by one woman and one man, Kate James and Tim Sniffen. Indeed, so much of the audience Tuesday night was female that one character thanked “all the ladies and the gentleman they dragged here.” If more men knew what they were getting into, they wouldn’t have to be dragged.
The Realish Housewives of Charlotte
When: Through March 6 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 6:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Booth Playhouse, 100 N. Tryon St.
Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission.