It may be the Catskills, but it is not Grossingers or the
Raleigh; it is the Chevalier d’Eon Resort with a special clientele.
Harvey Fierstein is the busiest showman we know; when he
isn’t performing in and/or writing hit musicals, which win Tony awards like “Kinky
Boots,” he is penning ground-breaking plays such as “Torch Song Trilogy.” His
latest, “Casa Valentina,” is concerned with cross-dressing by men, who find
pleasure and relief wearing women’s clothes, wigs and high heels included. It is based on truth.
Fierstein has amassed a fantastic cast of actors to portray
the men, who, when dressed by Rita Ryack in traditional skirts and flowing
tops, with exceptional Hair, Wig and Makeup by Jason P. Hayes, are
unrecognizable. They gather every weekend at a run-down resort, a split-stage
designed by Scott Pask, lit darkly by Justin Townsend, where they can relax
away from their families and friends. Joe Mantello directs the seven actors and
two actresses: Mare Winningham plays a sweetly touching Rita, wife and co-owner
with George of this unique getaway, and the other is Lisa Emery as the outraged
Eleanor, daughter of the Judge, who seems to be the model of respectability but
is actually not. He’s played forcefully by Larry Pine.
George is given a great reading by Patrick Page, late of “Spider
Man.” His female name is Valentina. In fact, all the men have female
identities. The Judge is Amy; Tom McGowan is a hoot as heavy-set Bessie; Nick
Westrate is Gloria, and John Cullum, bless his soul, is lovely as Terry. When a new man, Jonathan, arrives, full of
angst, Rita tries to put him at ease. Gabriel Ebert is a wreck, tall and
ungainly, and the women do his makeover from undergarments to makeup, even
renaming him, Miranda—well the name is his choice. Each of these men seem to
house two personalities from times when they were young.
George is eagerly awaiting Charlotte’s visit; he fervently
hopes she will bail him out of bankruptcy. Reed Birney is simply brilliant as
this business like woman who want the group to become a verifiable public
organization with a constitution. The
caveat is that the organization must reject homosexuality. This is a debatable issue that goes on too
long. But in the end, it is not resolved. Although George loves his wife, Rita,
he returns happily to being Valentina, as soon as he can.
The subject matter, though smarmy, is handled with good
taste in “Casa Valentina” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway.
Through June 15.