If you've watched Bravo's The Real Housewives of New Jersey, you may have come to characterize cast member Teresa Giudice, the mother of four who has been put through the ringer recently for her money problems, as a stage mom. You can throw that particular label aside as Giudice, along with fellow Jersey housewives Caroline Manzo and Jacqueline Laurita (and their daughters Lauren and Ashley) kick off a one-week engagement starring in Anthony Wilkinson's very funny off-Broadway production of My Big Gay Italian Wedding, a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn-centered parody of marriage inequality in the United States.
The show is coproduced by glamorous former cast-member -- and proud owner of the oddly endearing Sphynx cat Grandma Wrinkles -- Dina Manzo. Part of the proceeds from the four sold-out performances will benefit Marriage Equality New York. Out caught up with the budding starlets, playwright Anthony Wilkinson, and producer Manzo during a short rehearsal of the show to get straight to the point about their thoughts on gay marriage in America.
Out:: Can you talk a little bit about Marriage Equality New York and how the idea came about to get the New Jersey housewives involved?
Anthony Wilkinson, playwright and lead actor: The main thing we support is marriage equality in New York. It just seems to be a really long fight and we have a long battle ahead and the girls are very supportive of equal rights for us and we just basically joined forces and said wouldn't this be a great way to raise money for our cause. And Dina and Caroline supported it a thousand percent, and they got the rest of the girls on board and it's going to help us raise a lot of money [for the cause].
What's it like working with Dina on the production side?
She's part of the reason why we're here because when I previewed it in Staten Island, she was there. And she said, This belongs in New York City. So she was able to get a lot of investors involved.
Had you met Dina beforehand?
We met on an airplane. There was a lot of turbulence and I was freaking out -- having a panic attack on the plane -- and she came over and comforted me. And we kept in touch.
So Lauren, Ashley, what do you think about marriage equality and what does it mean to you?
Ashley: I think it's a really great cause. My whole view on gay marriage is I don't think it matters who you marry. If a guy likes a guy or a girl likes a girl -- if they love each other, you should let it happen. It shouldn't matter. You can't choose who you love and it's stupid for someone to try to stop them.
Lauren: It's something we're very passionate about. We have gay family members, gay friends.
Ashley: My best, best, best friend is gay. I don't see the big deal in it at all.
Lauren: You can't help who you love. My mom [Caroline] always told me you can't help how your heart feels. So if your heart feels something for someone who happens to be the same sex, there's nothing wrong with that.
Caroline, I was asking your daughter what she thought about marriage equality and she had nice things to say about your perspective and what you taught her growing up. A question for you and Teresa: What do you think about the state of gay marriage in America today?
Caroline: I think the state of gay marriage in the U.S. right now needs to have a little bit of a wake up call. We're all human beings and we have a right to live and love how we choose. I do have a gay brother. He's younger than me, so I watched him grow up and I watched his heart hurt and I knew what he went through. To me, to do this, to support the cause is wonderful. And, again, watching my brother grow up and understanding it' watching the show really makes you get it. So my heart was always open to it, but this [experience] has really opened my eyes to it. It's a message that needs to be told, but more importantly needs to be heard.
Teresa: [The show] makes you laugh, it makes you cry. It's really touching.
Dina, how did you get involved in producing the show?
Dina: Through my dear friend Anthony Wilkinson, who also wrote the play. He did a one-night-only in Staten Island and I went to see it and support him and I said, "Anthony you need to do more with this." You know, with gay marriage being in the forefront right now and the message is there in a great way because it's not shoving it down anyone's throat. Anyone can come see it, whether they support gay marriage or not, and at the end of this play they'll walk out of here maybe with their eyes open and say,"You know what, everyone really does deserve to get married and everyone deserves to have this special bond between two people in love." So that's what we're trying to do here.
Jacqueline, I've gotten everyone else's thoughts, what about you -- your thoughts on marriage equality and what it means to you?
Jacqueline: We have family members who are gay so we believe strongly -- I never understood what the big deal was with that. I think if two people want to be together and they love each other, they should be together and they should be able to get married.
The five New Jersey housewives will showcase their acting chops to benefit Marriage Equality New York during four sold-out performances at Manhattan's St. Luke's Theater from September 1 through 4. For more info, visit the show's official website.