Thursday, May 1, 2014

Secrets in The Catskills: Casa Valentina on Broadway

The LGBTQ (ever changing list of letters) community is a huge group that covers a diverse set of people. What ties us all together is that we are different - set apart from what others consider 'the norm'. And yet even within our own community, there is much division and lack of understanding of each other. Harvey Fierstein has addressed some of those issues in his new play Casa Valentina which has been nominated for Best Play for a Tony Award. The play is set in the 60s at a resort in the Catskills where heterosexual men who love to dress as women gather to share their secret in a non-judgmental environment. The play is also inspired by a true story that was reported in the New York Times several years back (and is a very interesting read). 

There is a great ensemble of actors that work so well together to share this story as it slowly unravels. We see the men arriving at the resort, changing into women's clothing and learning about each of their personal lives. Married men. Judges. Older men. Younger. George (whose female name is Valentina) runs the resort with his wife, Rita (underplayed with realness and truth by the Tony nominated Mare Winningham) and eagerly await the arrival of the others. Yet as it starts, we are unsure who these men are. Are we dealing with transgendered? Transsexuals? Homosexuals? Fierstein moves the play along slowly - sometimes too slowly for this audience member - as he gets to the conflict of the story. Charlotte (played by the wonderful Reed Birney) has flown in to get the group to officially register as a society in order to bring cross-dressing into the mainstream. But in order to do that, they must distance themselves from homosexuals - and therein lies the theme that Fierstein so adeptly addresses. How this community of society outcasts turn on each other to make themselves better than the next.

That is what I came away with from this rather lengthy play. A play that runs as long as a musical. While I enjoyed much about it, I felt it could have been edited and still had the same social impact the show is making. There are some beautiful moments. There are some funny moments. All directed very well by the talented Joe Mantello (with shades of his Love! Valour! Compassion!).  The show has it all and the cast handles each moment brilliantly; never making fun of the very group they are representing. I must give a shout out to John Cullum who tenderly creates a wonderful elderly woman that is so beautiful to watch as he is held while dancing with others. I also really enjoyed Nick Westrate as Gloria - a firecracker of a 'woman' that doesn't back down from any one and Tom McGowan as Bessie who rides a fine line delivering one-liners with heart. But it is hard to pull out any from the others as it truly is an ensemble work. Still, it is George we are supposed to feel for during his plight and while I have always loved Patrick Page in everything I've ever seen him do - I didn't feel he got to all of the layers of George the way his onstage wife was able to find with her character. Theirs is a marriage of total transparency and she is so accepting that I wish we could get inside of him just a little more.

Huge thank to the Manhattan Theatre Club for always offering such diverse productions. What a great asset to the Broadway community!       

No comments:

Post a Comment