Friday, April 25, 2014

Casa Valentina @ The Samuel J Friedman Theatre

    How does one create a riveting story about discrimination in the gender fluid world while still creating an empathetic audience? By telling the truth of course. Casa Valentina explores this world in its infancy, taking the audience on an incredibly insightful journey fill with laughter and poignancy. 
In 1962, there was a resort where men could gather together and don the feminine identity in privacy and acceptance. When sorority leader Charlotte, asks the ladies to sign away their anonymity in order to register with the government and become legalized members of society, able to live freely as cross-dressing men, the ladies balk unwilling to give up their privacy or sign the affidavit claiming they are not “disgusting homosexuals.” Her presence creates a storm that no one could see coming, forcing the ladies to explore themselves and in Valentina/George’s case, his/her perfectly not-normal relationship with his/her supportive wife and fellow resort owner, Rita. 

   Mare Winningham(Rita) does a stellar job. As one of only two affectionately called GG’s(genuine girls) onstage, Mare delivers a poignant role as the wife of a transvestite. Delivering one liner quips with ease, she caused as much laughter as she did sighs of sympathy during her more serious moments thinking of the life she had walked into “eyes open.” Patrick Page(George/Valentina) is alternately gentlemanly and ladylike, his dual personalities as separate as they are cohesive. His legs alone were enough to make the ladies in the theatre jealous! Tom McGowan(Bessie) was the comedic relief. With enough personality to match his name, Tom creates a larger than life role not to be dismissed but rather savored. Larry Pine(The Judge/Rita) probably had the most heartbreaking scene in the entire play. Without saying a word, he conveyed more feeling than a monologue could ever. There was not a single person in the audience who didn’t feel as if their heart wouldn’t break during his performance. 

Nick Westrate(Gloria) was feminine, haughty, and sexy. His compassionate speeches were as real as he was. Gabriel Ebert(Jonathan/Miranda) was the epitome of innocence. Girlish as Miranda, hopelessly foolish and sweet as Jonathan, he created the blossoming debutante role effortlessly. John Cullum(Terry) was the voice of reason in the play. His insight provided the looking glass for Valentina to observe her hypocrisy. Lisa Emery(Eleanor) was only onstage for a moment but she was the catalyst in the second act. The daughter of Amy/The Judge, she confronted the seemingly perfect couple Rita and George on all the questions they had smoothed over, forcing them to see things they perhaps had been ignoring in their relationship. And last, but certainly not least Reed Birney(Charlotte) was riveting. His performance was spot on, from the way he held his hands, to how he stood, his speech, all reminded me achingly of my grandmother. Desperate for recognition by the society that shunned her, Charlotte was perhaps the perfect villain zealot, preaching discrimination against homosexuals in order to gain acceptance as a straight male transvestite. 

    Written by Harvey Firstien and directed by Joe Mantello, Casa Valentina explores the ideology of American society and the ease in which it discriminates against every type of individual. Promoting acceptance of gender fluidity and uniqueness in all its forms without shoving it down your throat, you cannot help but leave the theatre better informed and more empathetic to all types. 

Casa Valentina opened at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre opened April 2014 and runs through June 15th. Get your tickets here!

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

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