L-R: Holly Fowers (Ramona) April Fossen (Joy) Anne Cullimore Decker (Emma) Anne Louise Brings (Lupita) Haley McCormick (Wendy) Front row: Nicki Nixon (Jena). Photo by Morgan Donavan courtesy of AP Productions
“Mormon women, in their true setting as handmaidens of the Lord, are the freest women on earth ... Why? Because they have the gospel.” –Mark E. Petersen, Why Every Woman Needs Relief Society, Ensign, March 1976 (Disclaimer: this opening quote is being used ironically)
Utah’s newest theatre production company, Alligator Press Productions, has opened its first theatrical season with The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County––a world premiere containing six strong female roles. Did I mention it’s also directed by a woman? You heard that right, feminists.
Written by novelist and playwright Miguel Santana, The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County whips together comedy, satire and awkward family situations into a fabulously delicious green Jell-O … I mean, into a fabulously delicious commentary about Mormon lives in Utah County. Having grown up Mormon, Santana was interested in the connections of inequality that many marriages receive––especially within the Mormon community––and this play explores quite a few. The main story line focuses around an older woman, the widowed Emma (played by Anne Cullimore Decker), wanting to marry a younger man, the divorced Dimitri (played by Jim Dale), but Housewives lends a focus to many marriage situations that receive negative scrutiny—including gay marriage, interracial marriage, unhappy marriages, sex in and out of marriage, remarrying, women choosing who they marry and more.
The play also offers a unique look at parenting, what it means to be a “good” parent in the eyes of most Mormons and the pressures of obtaining perfection. Emma’s daughter, Joy (played by April Fossen), and daughters-in-law, Ramona (played by Holly Fowers) and Lupita (played by Anne Louise Brings), are not exactly ecstatic about the idea of their mother/mother-in-law getting remarried––a situation made more difficult to deal with amongst Mormons who are sealed for “time and all eternity” with their spouse and families in Mormon temples. Does remarrying mean Emma no longer loves her deceased husband? What effect does it have on her eternal vows? Does this decision make her a selfish person? Housewives also contains a scene between Emma’s granddaughter/Joy’s daughter, Jena (played by Nicki Nixon), and Joy’s daughter-in-law, Wendy (played by Haley McCormick), where Jena reveals that she’s pregnant––a normally celebrated event within the Mormon community––with her third child, but that the pregnancy was unwanted. Jena was planning on returning to college and having more time to foster her own identity––does her not wanting another child make her a bad mother? In a religion where married women are encouraged to have as many children as possible, what does not wanting more kids say about her as a Mormon woman?
With many of the scenes arguably short in length, director Alexandra Harbold created a decent flow of things by layering scenes together: having some actors entering to begin a scene while the actors from the previous scene are still talking or finishing up, or having the dialogue from a following scene start off-stage and work its way on-stage as the previous actors exit.
The set is simple and yet brilliant in its design: the border around the stage is made to look like a doll house––which would make the characters in the play objects without minds of their own and possibly make for an elaborate metaphor for free will, something Mormons believe in quite heavily––and the main stage is set as a kitchen and living room, and is used as several of the characters’ homes throughout the play. One thing is for certain: it only takes a single glance at the set’s back wallpaper to know without a doubt that you’re in Utah County.
Including everything from green Jell-O to prescription drug addiction and mentions of “traditional marriage” and Proposition 8, you might think Housewives plays with too many Mormon stereotypes, but those who’ve lived there can tell you, when it comes to Utah County, stereotypes are an understatement.
The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County runs May 16–26, Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30 p.m., and Sundays 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. in the Post Theatre at Fort Douglas, east of the University of Utah. To encourage the community to continue talking about the issues addressed in Housewives, The Center for Mind Body Health will be facilitating discussions on various topics after certain performances, including: LGBT Topics on Friday, May 17; Equality, Diversity and Inclusiveness on Thursday, May 23; and Women’s Themes on Sunday, May 26. And, if you’re looking for dinner and a show, be sure to check out SLC local restaurants Pago, Finca and the Wild Grape Bistro, all of which will be celebrating Housewives with custom “Righteous Housewives” themed dinner and cocktail specials during the run of the play.