If there is one thing a man loves to do is dress up like a woman. There are those who hide behind a shield for comic effect but there are men who do it for personal reasons. Now in the 21st Century this is luckily “mostly” widely accepted, yet there was a time this was a different matter.
Casa Valentina, written by Harvey Fierstein, the man who gave us the sublime Torch Song Trilogy. And what a week it has been for him, This week saw the opening of the musical Kinky Boots on the West End to rave reviews. Based on the film with the same name and with a book by Fierstein, with music & Lyrics by Cindy Lauper. The day after and a few miles further up the road in the Fringe Theatre The Southwark Playhouse, Casa Valentina had its first night. A play which opened in 2014 on Broadway and ran for 79 performances. Nominated for 4 Tony awards including Best New Play.
In this play, based on real-life events and set in 1962, there’s a little hotel in a resort in Catskill Mountain of New York called Casa Valentina, run by George (Edward Wolstenholme) and Rita (Tamsin Carroll), a happily married couple. What makes this hotel so special from the others is that it’s run for heterosexual men to escape their lives and family for a few days where they can be themselves dressed as women. We are introduced to first timer Jonathan (Ben Deery) later to be known as Miranda. Never been outed in public his weekend will be pampered and taught to perfection by regulars Albert/Bessie ( Matt Rixon), Michael/Gloria (Ashley Robinson), Theodore/Terry (Bruce Montague, The Judge/Amy (Robert Morgan), Charlotte/Isadore (Gareth Snook) and of course by Jonathan who’s alter ego is Miranda. The freedom, safety and happiness of the liberation in the hotel is shown, up until the point that Miranda mentions the group that he wants the group to become formal. Fear and uneasiness starts to creep up in the group and tension creates complications and truths start to develop.
It raises many questions about acceptance and happiness, after all who are any of us to judge. Harvey Fierstein has written, as always, a play with poetic depth and real characters we probably know. The play flows beautifully as we are witness to 14 hours of these brave and amazing men. You are glued to every word spoken and every move made. Luke Sheppard handles the tremendous actors with ease, you don’t really have the feeling you are watching a play but you are actually there. With its superb set, designed by Justin Nardella and the Lighting by Howard Hudson, the play focuses on the words and the actions. The cast are just superb, I can’t single any one out because this is a team play and every performer bounces of each other. The costumes (Andrew Riley) and make-up (Diana Estrada Hudson and Xavia Sommerville) are wonderful to look at. Now I am not someone who jumps up easily to give a standing ovation, but this play deserved it. This production needs to have a long run on the West End. After all, we are what we are.
Review by Danny Reyntiens
Paul Taylor-Mills Ltd and Amy Anzel Productions Ltd present the European première of Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein
Casa Valentina gives us a glimpse into the lives of a group of ‘self-made women’ as they search for acceptance and happiness in a high heel. Based on actual events, this delightfully insightful and hilariously entertaining piece is written by Harvey Fierstein, the Tony award winning writer of Kinky Boots, La Cage aux Folles, and Newsies.
Back in 1962, most men went to the Catskill Mountains to escape the summer heat, but others took the two-hour drive to escape something else entirely: being men. Nestled in the land of Dirty Dancing and borscht belt comedy sat an inconspicuous bungalow colony that catered to a very special clientele. It was paradise for these men—white-collar professionals with families—to spend their weekends discreetly and safely inhabiting their true selves. But, at a time when the outside world was not accepting of their identities, they had to decide whether the freedom they would gain by emerging from hiding and living an authentic life was worth the risk of personal ruin.
Infused with Fierstein’s trademark wit, this moving, insightful and delightfully entertaining tale of self-discovery offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of unforgettable characters as they search for acceptance and happiness in their very own Garden of Eden.
Director: Luke Sheppard
Set Designer: Justin Nardella
Lighting Designer: Howard Hudson
Costume Designer: Andrew Riley
Music and Sound Designer: Harry Blake
Casting: Will Burton CDG
Producers: Paul Taylor-Mills Ltd and Amy Anzel Productions Ltd
Cast: Tamsin Carroll, Ben Deery, Charlie Hayes, Bruce Montague, Robert Morgan, Matt Rixon, Ashley Robinson, Gareth Snook and Edward Wolstenholme.
Friday 18th September 2015