PRINT November 2021


Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, This American Wife, 2021. Rehearsal view, Great Neck, NY, May 19, 2021. Michael Breslin. Photo: Nina Goodheart.

MICHAEL BRESLIN AND PATRICK FOLEY’S This American Wife, a multicamera performance directed by Rory Pelsue, produced by Jeremy O. Harris and FourthWall Theatrical, and livestreamed this summer, stages a confrontation between the women of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and their pansy votaries. Breslin and Foley—Pulitzer drama finalists for Circle Jerk (2020), which also streamed live earlier this year—synthesize improv, soliloquy, and Real Housewives dialogue, quoted and lip-synched. In This American Wife, Breslin and Foley, trailed by a fleet of handheld cameras, join Jakeem Dante Powell and Catherine María “Cat” Rodriguez in a Long Island McMansion. Haunted by a posh female specter (Rodriguez), “Michael,” “Patrick,” and “Jakeem” slip between fantasy and Real-ity, ecstasy and despair, and—most explosively—male and female personae. This American Wife emerges as a state-of-the-union address concerning not only Housewives but women in general and the sissies who claim them as avatars.

The sissies in question evoke the Faggots of Larry Mitchell, the late author and publisher of 1977’s The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions. In a 2020 reprint, artist and writer Morgan Bassichis introduces the book as “part-fable, part-manifesto,” a genre-bending novella that conjures a world “inhabited by a mythic cosmology of revolutionary protagonists—the faggots . . . the strong women—and of course, their opponents, the men.” Mitchell describes the men as those who regard “all that [is] other from them” as “inferior and therefore worthy only of abuse and contempt and extinction.” “A small group of men” have become “very rich”; they “wear grey.” Their Faggot counterparts, meanwhile, “wear all the other colors,” surviving the Men “with craftiness and wit.” Bassichis notes that “in the world of the book, one’s role is not determined by some narrow essentialist notion of biology, but rather by one’s allegiance to either the oppressed or the oppressor.” Mitchell explains that “all the men could be faggots or their friends.”

Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, This American Wife, 2021. Rehearsal view, Great Neck, NY, May 19, 2021. Michael Breslin, and Jakeem Dante Powell. Photo: Nina Goodheart.

This American Wife opens on the interior monologues of Michael, Patrick, and Jakeem, all wearing gray and riding in separate cars driven by the same stylish woman, her face obscured. Our heroes look like Men, but we can hear their thoughts: florid paeans to The Real Housewives of New York, New Jersey, and Atlanta, respectively. They arrive simultaneously at the door of a mansion, strangers to one another. Real-ism slips away (or into place?) as Patrick murmurs, “Did I just hear you talking about Kenya Moore hair care?” Jakeem startles, clocked and read. Our telepathic heroes banter. They grin in unison: “Are you . . . gay?”

Three Faggots enter the house.

The Faggots wear pink silks, pearls, and jewels. A woman stands on the steps, beckoning to the Faggots with a long acrylic nail, a twenty-carat diamond, a constellation of Cartier bangles. Her python pumps disappear up the staircase. The Faggots stare into the camera, which closes in on Michael: “Wow, she’s pernicious.” A ding is heard. The games begin.

Who gon’ check me boo!
You don’t know what I go through at night!
So I’m being nailed to the cross like Jesus was—and he did nothing wrong!

The Faggots vamp, simper, and swirl around the house, chanting Camille, Shereé, Erika, and Vicki’s meme-candy zingers, recognizable even to the uninitiated. Per Mitchell, Faggots

cultivate the most . . . outrageous parts of the past . . . they love them so much that they tell the . . . stories over and over and they act them out and then, as the ultimate tribute, they allow their lives to re-create those obscure parts of the past. The pain of fallen women and the triumph of defeated women are constantly and lovingly made flesh again.

While the Real Housewives franchise stages its stories squarely in the present, its subjects join Marie Antoinette, Joan of Arc, and even Cleopatra within the contemporary pop pantheon of “fallen women,” especially where Faggots are concerned. Foley, Breslin, and Pelsue—graduates of the Yale School of Drama—“make flesh” of their divas with no uncertain degree of “love” and rigor. The circumstances of Shereé’s vibe check, what Erika goes through at night, or Vicki’s crucifixion are less important to This American Wife than the triumph of its muses, who win their audience on affect alone. Mitchell’s Faggots, furthermore, are no strangers to defeat, abused and reviled by Men (per Michael’s intro, his Housewives obsession emerged in the wake of getting “[beaten] up on a night bus”). In pursuit of a triumph they can call their own, Faggots not only look to Strong Women but “re-create” their victories as well.

But what is “triumph” to the modern Faggot, to his Strong Woman counterpart, to a Housewife in a mansion on television, to a pair of Pulitzer finalists? What does it mean to win?

When it comes to Faggots and Women, there can be no triumph without suffering.

Patrick, in a relentless close-up, tells Jakeem—now holding the camera unseen—about getting raped during his freshman year of college. Patrick was a virgin, he met a man at an “improv party,” the man had a rainbow fauxhawk (“it was 2008”), Patrick bottomed and said, “Please stop,” but the man put a pillow over Patrick’s head and did not stop. A single tear slides majestically down Patrick’s cheek. “What’s your reality?” Jakeem asks Michael in a subsequent scene, once again holding the camera. This time, it’s Michael’s close-up, a single tear coursing down his cheek, then several more: “It was at college . . . like, an improv party . . . I wasn’t really out yet . . . I hadn’t really had sex . . . and I saw this guy there . . . rainbow fauxhawk . . . he was like, ‘Let’s fuck’ . . . and then we started, and I was like, ‘No, stop. Stop. Stop’ . . . and then a pillow, then . . .” In the play’s final scene—a partially improvised showdown in the style of a Housewives reunion special—Jakeem confronts Michael and Patrick. From behind the camera, Jakeem asks Michael if the story he told earlier was true. Michael’s eyes well: “Yes. Yes.” Jakeem pivots to Patrick and asks him the same question: “Yes.” Jakeem asks Michael if it “happened to him.” “Yes,” Michael says.

Jakeem asks Patrick:
Did that happen to you?
Another perfect teardrop:
It absolutely . . . it absolutely did not happen to me. But Jakeem, it is absolutely Real.

Jakeem storms out. Patrick hisses at Michael:

I did this for us. I love you. I love you, you know that. I love you. I’ve heard you tell that story so many times, Michael. Drunk at parties, on the subway, as a getting-to-know-you gag. Michael, that story doesn’t mean anything to you. But that story means everything to me. Everything to me, got it? Yeah, you gave me that story. But guess what, bitch? I gave you this one. So you’re welcome. You’re fucking welcome! I love you, bitch.

When it comes to Faggots and Women—TV and theater, truth and fiction—there can be no triumph without suffering. Larry Mitchell wrote from the recent past, conjuring the Strong Women of antiquity as he mapped the Faggots’ resilience under the yoke of Men. But Mitchell also warned his readers that “all the men could be faggots or their friends.” By this logic, they could even be women. And what is a Man if not a liar and an opportunist, an abuser in an ivory tower—rich!—pernicious and uncheckable. This American Wife, with acid self-awareness, turns the camera on its creators and inspirations alike: on Faggots like Patrick and Strong Women who have become “Men” like Camille, Shereé, Erika, and Vicki—trading a veneer of oppression for the powers and prerogatives of the oppressor. The play—in all its “craftiness and wit”—does not indict its heroes or its divas so much as pathologize them as subjects of a cultural moment in which victimhood can be traded up for just about anything but a clean slate. In the context of liberal movements organized around gender (#BelieveWomen), sexuality (#Pride), and consent (#MeToo), This American Wife blurs the line between oppressor and oppressed, surrendering moral certitude to the infinite malleability of the Real. Patrick’s gross appropriation of Michael’s trauma is inseparable from the perfect vulnerability with which he tells it, an affect sampled from his “fallen” female faves. Michael’s hurt and humiliation merely enhance the perfect “story” Patrick gives him in inflicting it—yet another victim narrative that soars, for better and for worse.

As long as there are Men, there will be Faggots and Women. As long as there are Faggots and Women, there will be theater.

Hari Nef is an actress and writer in New York.