“Casa Valentina” is not your usual dramedy. It isn’t a story you see very often making the rounds at regional theatres. In fact, this production of the work at Colonial Players opening last night, is its regional debut after a short run on Broadway in 2014. I knew next to nothing about the piece other than it boasts Harvey Fierstein as its playwright. However, when I interviewed Bruce Nelson from Everyman Theatre last week, he mentioned this was one show that he’d love the chance to star in. After seeing it, I can most definitely see why.
It’s a masterful look at what makes people what they are, and Colonial Players of Annapolis created a beautiful and heartfelt production of the play.
The story of a group of men dressing as women in a cabin in Catskills in the 1960s has everything a good story should have – heart, flair, drama and Harvey Fierstein’s trademark biting wit. What’s more is that it’s a complicated story, which has become even more prescient in today’s troubled times. While 2018 isn’t nearly as conservative as 1968 was, the play still shines the light on how far the transvestite and LGBTQ communities have come but also how far they still need to go.
It helps that Fierstein addresses the elephant in the room at the time. Just because these men enjoy dressing as women, it doesn’t make them “queer” which is a step too far in their eyes. In fact, there is almost a disregard for the gay community by a handful of these men. It is perfectly ok for them to dress as the opposite sex, but to be attracted to other men is offensive. When one of the friends is outed, the weekend goes a bit off the rails allowing them to explore their choices and what they mean to the men and those who love them.
It’s a masterful look at what makes people what they are, and Colonial Players of Annapolis created a beautiful and heartfelt production of the play. The men at the heart of the piece truly enjoy the feeling of beauty that goes along with dressing up in intricate outfits and makeup. The creatives behind the production go out of their way to present these men in believable and not to mention, beautiful clothing. So often men dressing as women is played for laughs, but in this instance, you can see the poise the men exude the moment they step into their “other selves.” The actors wearing these outfits seem to change completely – everything from their posture to the way they walk, often doing so in heels. A special mention must be made of the men’s ability to walk in these shoes. As a woman, I’m wonderfully awkward when I attempt to wear heels, and these men are clearly much more talented than I am.
As Valentina/George (Jim Gallagher) and Rita (Laura Gayvert) – the innkeepers of the cabin – you can see the love these two people have for each other, but we are also witnesses to the complicated relationship they have. Gayvert plays not only the genuine affection she has for her husband’s friends, but also quiet confusion, when she realizes their marriage may not be as perfect as she once thought it was. Gallagher as Jim, is the quintessential 60s husband, but as Valentina he comes alive. He is poised, reserved and not to mention beautiful.
The friends that surround Valentina/George and Rita are equally unique in their own rights. As Bessie/Albert, Kevin Wallace is clearly the front runner for most fun at a party. His dedication to the loud outfits and Oscar Wilde quotes is admirable. He provides the perfect comic relief during some of the more emotional scenes. Tom Wyatt as Charlotte/Isadore is perfectly ruthless in his desire to get what he wants. While the rest of the ladies are lovely, it’s Wyatt’s job as Charlotte to be the catalyst for the dramatic turn in the weekend. And while I’m sure he is a wonderful as a person, he’s very believable as a very mean woman – who I disliked immensely.
The cast’s dedication to portraying these characters truthfully makes this piece such a triumph. Mickey Lund, as the director created an intimate look at these men and women in which the audience is able to take them seriously. The characters’ decisions are not played for laughs or humor, allowing the audience to see the heart and determination of these men. What was once a radical idea in 1968, doesn’t seem so radical today. And in the words of another ground-breaking work portraying the LGBTQ community; “La Cage aux Folles” – “they are who they are, and they make no excuses,” which is a wonderfully brave way to live a life.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
“Casa Valentina” plays through June 17, 2018, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-268-7373, or purchase them online.