Theater Review - Casa Valentina (NY)

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.

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