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Women defy Mormon conventions for love in ‘Real Housewives’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Haley McCormick (Wendy), left, Anne Louise Brings (Lupita), Holly Fowers (Ramona), Anne Cullimore Decker (Emma), April Fossen (Joy) and Nicki Nixon (Jena) in "The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County" at the Post Theater at Fort Douglas.

By Daisy Blake

Special to The Tribune

First published May 11 2013 01:01AM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:31PM

Reality television has shown us the real housewives of Orange County, New York and other communities around the country.

Now, it’s Utah’s turn, with the world premiere of "The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County."

Based on the first English novel by Mexican writer — and Utah resident — Miguel Santana — the show opens Thursday at The Post Theater at Fort Douglas.

The story follows Emma Harris, a Mormon widow, and the younger wives of the Pratt family, as Emma defies social and religious conventions to give herself a second chance at love.

"Housewives" is directed by Alexandra Harbold and is unique as it has six female roles and only one male role. The director, costume designer, set designer, publicist and stage manager are women as well. The cast includes Utah theater stalwarts Anne Cullimore Decker, April Fossen, Nicki Nixon, Holly Fowers and Jim Dale plus newer faces Anne Louise Brings and Haley McCormick.

Santana grew up in Mexico; his family converted to Mormonism when he was 11.

"Utah became the Promised Land," he said. "When my partner and I moved to Salt Lake three years ago, I became very aware of Mormon family dynamics, especially of those like mine, divided — the faithful, righteous, churchgoing Mormons and the ones who have ‘strayed away.’ ‘Righteous Housewives’ is an examination of those familial negotiations, a look into my own experience, navigating love and social expectations."

He said the core of the play is unconditional love. "How do we love those whose lives seem so different than ours? How do we get to that universal value of being and letting be? The women in this play are wrestling with this conflict, each in their own space, in their own skin and context."

Harbold said the first time she read the novel, she imagined Decker — a longtime Utah actor and former U. theater professor — playing the role of Emma, the matriarch. Harbold and Decker were involved with a performance-art piece several years ago and were keen on working together again.

Decker said she wanted the role because Emma and her family are facing difficult issues that many families must deal with.

"She is willing to take great risks to have what will perhaps be her last chance at love," said Decker. "I admire her spirited determination to live authentically — no matter how much rejection, conflict and tension she causes by going against family and religious expectations."

Decker, who was born and raised in Utah County, said many of her friends have experienced the loss of a spouse and have shared their stories "and they resonate in Emma."

She has found the role enjoyable and challenging. "I understand Emma’s sense of aging and the reality of the brevity of life. I’ve also lived long enough to have experienced the challenges of finding your own voice and the rewards of living an authentic life."

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