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Fort Fringe – Redrum
Saturday, July 20, 12:15 a.m. Saturday, July 20, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25, 6:15 p.m. Friday, July 26, 10:00 p.m.
They say: “Backyard chickens. Flame wars on the mommy listserv. Slutty househusbands and a plot to change H Street forever. Catch H Street Housewives at Fringe – no streetcar required.”
Ian’s Take: I’ve never seen an episode of any of the various iterations of Bravo’s Real Housewives series. But I get the concept. Women behaving badly, scheming, one-upping, catfighting. There are sleepovers and pillowfights too, right?
I have, however, been to H Street NE, the recently-gentified sector of…actually, I’m not going to describe H Street. If you don’t already know what it is, then a lot of the the jokes in Jenny Splitter‘s H Street Housewives—-a sendup of both the Real Housewives phenomenon and the H Street phenomenon—-may be lost on you.
That’s not to say the show is inaccessible to outsiders. In the same way that one doesn’t need to know Portland to get the lampooning of hip, DIY, progressive urban culture that Portlandia serves up, there are plenty of bigger-picture trends that H Street Housewives hits on, from urban chicken coops to airport mens’ room trysts to arguments over the merits of private vs. charter schooling. Just also be prepared for hyper-local jokes about streetcars and putt-putt bars.
The play is formatted just like an episode of reality television, complete with director Kristy Simmon’s attempt to replicate the visual style of those shows with a quick-cut montage of introductions at the start. It’s a nice flourish to kick things off, and a more ambitious approach to using lighting than a lot of Fringe shows ever attempt.
From there, we go back and forth from a discussion/talk show format, with all the housewives seated onstage to discuss real world events, and then cutaways to the events being discussed. Each housewife represents various D.C. archetypes: Suze (Molly Woods Murchie) is the uptight Hill wife with the straying husband; Lorraine (Jessi Baden-Campbell) is a hippie, “post-racial” single mom with an urban farm in her backyard and a strict laissez-faire approach to raising her little “non-gendered persons”; Francine (Anika Harden) is the driven careerist with the tri-lingual prodigal children; and finally, Gina (Peter Orvetti, in drag) has been shipped in from a previous season of Real Housewives of New Jersey for a little outsider flavor.
Splitter’s observations about these types are clever, spot-on and equally savage to them all. Impressively, even within the economical one-hour running time, she also manages to make this more than just a series of potshots, giving the whole piece a storyline complete with shifting alliances, secret plans, and a planned abomination of a Cheesecake Factory in the heart of H Street. These folks are caricatures, to be sure, but they’re also characters.
The only tragedy of the show is that Dane Edidi, as Tag, the disdainful host who can’t wait to get out of podunk DC for more chic environs, only gets to show up in the studio segments. As it is, she steals every one of those with mega-diva line-readings of gems like, “Get this bitch some gluten-free water!!!”
H Street Housewives is the sort of ephemeral entertainment that’s perfect for Fringe: brief, funny, location-specific, and very of the moment. Edidi’s Tag, on the other hand, is fierce, fabulous, and forever.
See it if: You’ve ever eaten Matzo balls at an Irish bar and had complicated feelings about the occasion.
Skip it if: You’re currently wondering why an Irish bar would have Matzo balls, you have no idea what happens on a listserv, and you haven’t been east of North Capitol Street since that time you got lost trying to get to RFK Stadium in the 90s.