Like Cohen, who interrupts the upscale creams and off-whites of the décor with eruptions of colors, the costume designer, Cole McCarty, also walks the fine line between subtle and bold hues. He clothes the actors in sheer blouses and textured blazers before pulling out the extravagant party gowns and statement hats. Tommy Kurzman, the hair, wig and makeup designer, has the performers’ eyelashes ecstatically curled and lips thoroughly glossed for their close-ups.
The superficial glamour of “This American Wife” is alluring, the kind of eye candy a superfan might enjoy on the show. Above all that’s Breslin, Foley and Powell embodying — with an uncanny level of precision — the various housewives. The gestures and affectations aren’t just acts of glorified mimicry, however; they are a statement on the Venn diagram of gay male tropes and a particular brand of performance by women. And so there are snapped heads and sashays and the glorious theatrics of Powell as Kenya Moore (“The Real Housewives of Atlanta”), saucily declaring himself “‘Gone With the Wind’ fabulous.” (Powell, as a Black man, also brings attention to the racial element of the franchise, which features mostly white women, but the script doesn’t offer a deeper analysis.)
That would have already been a comedic feat for the three, but much of the production is also improvised — and so well that it’s hard to differentiate. The last scene, a feisty interview segment, contains such a juicy rapid-fire argument between Foley’s character and Powell’s that it might have been an actual scrap between two catty acquaintances. (Shout out to Powell’s “I could make avocado toast out of you,” the Louis Vuitton of retorts.)
Though I probably risk snappy retribution here, seeing how thoroughly Foley, brandishing my colleague Jesse Green’s book “The Velveteen Father,” roasted him (bitingly and perhaps cruelly), I, like Vicki, Brandi, Danielle, Tamra and Porsha, must not back down.
Because despite its vicious charms, “This American Wife” quickly becomes exhausting. Since the production is split into separate movements, the two longest of which are primarily Breslin, Foley and Powell recreating scenes from the franchise, the novelty soon wears off. And though the production is so consciously playing with the artifice of the form, each performer has a moment of vulnerability when he — or at least his autofictional persona — reveals a tragic fact or experience. But when Breslin and Foley separately share the same tragic assault story — experienced by one and appropriated by the other — the gross fabrication casts a shadow of doubt over everything.
In one scene, Powell asks Breslin (who can shed white woman tears at the blink of an eye), “What’s your reality?” I had a similar question.
For most of “This American Wife” I was onboard but occasionally felt left out of the joke, especially in the improvised parts that could feasibly be sincere. The same is true of the music video segment: The show often feels so seduced by its own eccentric performances that it loses track of its point.