Review of This American Wife, Yale Cabaret
Cab Enthusiast: Hey, I just saw this interesting play at the Yale Cabaret. It’s called This American Wife and was conceived, written, staged and performed by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley. It’s about these two gay theater guys who become obsessed with the various “Real Housewives” reality TV shows and it’s like their obsession becomes the only thing they can talk about and it’s how they see themselves and each other and relationships and, um, even theater, I guess.
DB: Yeah, I know, I saw it. It has two more shows tonight at 8 and 11.
CE: OK, cool, because I wanted to ask you what you thought about being talked about at the end of the show.
DB: You know what Wilde said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
CE: Hah, yeah. I mean, it’s not just you, they kinda diss some people and even comment on the audience. It’s very real, like no fourth wall at all.
DB: Right, yeah, well, they mention my review of last year’s Satellite Festival, where their portion of the lengthy program got short shrift. My point was, like, if you’re going to bring reality into your show, well, there might be other realities that are more fun or demanding or whatever.
CE: It seemed like it hurt their feelings.
DB: Well, yes, but this is school, and part of the learning process is that it’s not going to be a group hug and a gold star after your every effort. Anyway, much worse gets said about every show only it doesn’t get written down.
CE: True. And it wasn’t in print, just online. Like, who takes the internet seriously?
DB: Right. What year were you born, again?
CE: Never mind. So, you don’t like this kind of reality theater?
DB: Well, it’s reality TV I was dissing initially, like I’m not going to willingly sit through episodes of Real Housewives of New Jersey. I mean, I grew up across the bridge from Jersey. And housewives? C’mon, man, I grew up when it was like a slur on a guy’s manhood if his wife worked. You ain’t gotta tell me, y’know?
But This American Wife has a definite structure. It might seem like it’s just these two guys Michael and Patrick talking on microphones in front of video cameras about one particular show, but its outreach is much more than that. I mean, first of all, it assumes that there’s some analogous level of obsession in almost every life, that participation in “the culture” means you have introjected these almost random bits from the media, and those are the things that help you forge your identity. Living in a simulacrum, all that stuff.
CE: Uh huh.
DB: So, it starts with this kind of “true confessions” moment with them “coming out” about being obsessed with the show. Like, it’s not the kind of thing you’d tell your elitist friends, the high culture police, if you could help it. But once the kitten leaves the box, then there’s no telling where it will go. At one point Patrick starts talking about amateur porn and then he admits to liking “behind the scenes” porn, which is not quite a performance and not quite reality but is a more “real” version of the scene, and the point is that something very real, like sex, is being treated with varying levels of “reality.” And what the Cab show is about is that specular moment of wanting to be the thing or person or performance or reality you see on the screen. But it’s also about those guilty secrets. Like “let whoever is without sin cast the first stone,” and so the audience is made complicit at that point. And there’s this great moment when Michael is on stage/camera and Patrick asks him about his mother. And we’re just on his eyes and he holds the look and then changes the subject. It’s stuff like that that keeps me coming to the Cab.
CE: Yeah, I remember that part about porn but I wasn’t sure what porn had to do with The Real Housewives franchise, or Kim Kardashian, for that matter.
DB: Yeah, good. She came up late in the play, during the part with the really intense partial closeups. The use of the cameras is both an element of the play and of the tech, it’s something that, theatrically, probably hasn’t been theorized and certainly not codified, yet. You know, you can talk about the camera as a character and as audience at the same time. But that part you mentioned was when Patrick started doing a little historical analysis of reality TV in the wake of the OJ case and the way all these reality stars sprang out of the possibility of just being on camera as a part of life. Way back in the Seventies though, there was An American Family which was a video diary of a family called the Louds. But, y’know, I was a kid then and I didn’t watch that either.
CE: Well that was a long time ago, and you mean “cameras in theater” hasn’t had its moment yet?
DB: It’s not exactly a progressive medium. Its biggest names all came before the camera was invented. Early on, Michael Breslin name-checks Brecht, y’know, because it’s like if you’re going to talk about subverting bourgeois normativity, as a theatrical construct, you gotta bring him up, it’s like de rigueur. Which is sweet in a way, you know, the way these old names keep hanging on. But then, it’s Yale. Out in the real world, most people know who Kim Kardashian is but they’ll frown and squint about “Brecht.” Sounds like a supplement or something. “Use Brecht each morning and let reality take over.”
CE: “Plato the Greek or Rin-tin-tin, who’s more famous to the billion million”?
DB: Exactly. The parts I was most impressed with were when the cameras and the videos were used to best effect. Patrick Foley has great presence, even on the small screen. And there’s that sequence of the duo going into “Real Housewives” drag, where it was—almost—as if the wish-fulfillment factory had finally swept them up in its benign embrace. And the “ending,” when they start arguing like the sisters in the limo, where their bond via vicarious pleasure starts to fray. Good stuff. And when they do their voice-overs on the scenes of “the ladies” themselves. Like they’re hijacking the material. I could watch that kind of thing all day. Especially with those edits Michael Breslin imposed on the clips.
CE: Oh really? Why?
DB: Getting back at TV is like my own personal revenge fantasy. Really. I can’t even talk about the things it has done to us. Not even now. But what did you like best?
CE: Yes, I liked the drag part. I always like costumes. The rest of the time they were just in T-shirts. Though they did put on these cool jackets at one point. And Michael Breslin looks great in a blonde wig.
DB: Well, yeah, that part was letting you see them as they are, in another reality. But there’s another idea lurking in that asymmetry. The ladies on the show are stuck with the reality they live, even if it’s a televised reality, but Michael and Patrick are in a different world, adjacent to that one. It could be called commentary or critique, or, hell, theater. The show finally ends “in the green room,” like “back stage with Patrick Foley,” though not “off-camera,” and it’s like the extras on a DVD. The actor crits the critics.
CE: Hermeneutic circle?
DB: You got it. When he says he always feels safe on camera, he demonstrates the axiom in the playbill, from dramaturg Ariel Sibert: “the self needs a medium.” Then again, the self itself is a medium. A construct.
CE: Shall we to the play, for by my fay I cannot reason . . . .
This American Wife
Created and performed by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley
Dramaturgs: Ariel Sibert, Catherine María Rodríguez; Stage Manager: Olivia Plath; Technical Director: Austin Byrd; Set Designer: Gerardo Díaz Sánchez; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Nic Vincent; Sound Designer: Michael Costagliola; Projection Designer: Brittany Bland, Wladimiro A. Woyno R.; Director of Photography: Amauta Martson-Firmino; Video Content Creation and Editing: Michael Breslin
October 12-14, 2017