Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Theater Review: Casa Valentina

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:30



Casa Valentina (The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre): When I first heard that Harvey Fierstein was in the process of bringing a new play about cross dressers to Broadway, I wasn’t incredibly surprised. I mean, let’s face it, that type of content isn’t really foreign to him. But Casa Valentina is far from the cheeky fun that is Kinky Boots. Its subject matter is serious–and although laughs are graciously provided throughout, there’s a serious message to be had here, somewhere. Set at a resort in the Catskill Mountains that caters to heterosexual transvestites in the 1960s, the show attempts to explore a subset of men with a fetish behavior who want desperately for said behavior to be accepted by society at large. However, in order to sanitize their activities, any sense of a homosexual identify (or sex, which seemed to define gay people in the 1960’s) must be erased. The performers here are truly wonderful.

The Green Goblin himself, Patrick Page, shows great variation in his portrayal of his testosterone-fueled male persona George with that of his female alter ego Valentina. The other actors in the production are equally as good. Tom McGown brings an oversized and lovable character named Bessie to life while Nick Westrate wonderfully personifies the hypocritical dichotomy of a homophobic and intolerant woman who desperately seeks societal approval despite her own differences with the mainstream. And Mare Winningham, who plays George’s wife Rita, convincingly portrays the struggle of a woman trying desperately to validate her marriage while supporting the cross dressing ways of her husband and his friends. The set is beautiful and dark–it feels intimate and brings the audience into the world of these men and women nicely.

The show begins with the real promise of a deeper look into a unique behavior in a conservative time in American history. But unfortunately, it gets somewhat lost in its politics. The characters’ desires to prove themselves as staunchly heterosexual, gay affirming, or apathetic to the topic, becomes redundant and overdone. And the attempt to link transvestite behaviors to homosexuals feels a bit forced. Regardless, the effect of the show on provoking thought among its viewers is strong. The struggles of the gay community at the time are prominently (although superficially) presented; and it is difficult to not consider the modern issue of transgendered persons being labeled as outcasts to the GLB(T) community at the show’s conclusion. And if that was the purpose of this show, it succeeds. But if you’re looking for something more psychologically educational regarding the transvestite subculture of the 1960’s or even want some type of resolution about these characters themselves, you’re more than likely going to be disappointed. Check out highlights from the show courtesy of Playbill.com below:

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