‘Casa Valentina’ offers skillful storytelling

Fierstein play makes major impression on stage at Town Hall Arts Center

Posted 1/22/19

It’s June 1962 and we’re in a bungalow colony, outside Hunter Mountain in the Catskills, as we take our seats at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center for a performance of Harvey Fierstein’s …

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‘Casa Valentina’ offers skillful storytelling

Fierstein play makes major impression on stage at Town Hall Arts Center

Posted

It’s June 1962 and we’re in a bungalow colony, outside Hunter Mountain in the Catskills, as we take our seats at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center for a performance of Harvey Fierstein’s play, “Casa Valentina.”

A screened porch looks to the outdoors. Fierstein, a well-known Broadway writer, actor, activist tells us a story …

Based on a poignant true story, the play tells of a group of heterosexual men, business types from New York, who head for a weekend stay with others who want to cross dress and become a woman for the weekend.

Valentina/George (Phil Luna) and his wife, Rita (Melissa McCarl) have started a weekend business, which is not in good shape financially.

They anxiously await the expected guests, who soon filter in, starting with young Jonathan/Miranda (Archie Archuleta), very nervous as he starts his first venture into a new experience-- to meet a bewildering need he feels. “I’m not sure I belong … I met Michael …”

Rita graciously greets him, puts him somewhat more at ease and tells him where to find his room, interrupted by a loud, bossy Bessie/Albert (Bill Kahn), who says “The world is my oyster — but I always use the wrong fork!” Bessie has good lines throughout and is well past the newbie uncertainty of young Miranda.

An exasperated, conservatively suited George/Valentina arrives after an upsetting meeting with the postal inspector over some questionable (pornographic) material in his mail. With Rita’s help, he transforms into Valentina. “Ask the judge” about the mail, Rita urges. Stage magic occurs as he sputters.

As others gather, conversation continues hard and fast: Isadore/Charlotte (Sam Gilstrap) wants to take this “sorority” national, with the attendant publicity, which could mean business for Casa Valentina — and she wants for each person to swear that they are not homosexual.

Michael/Gloria (Tim Howard) and reserved, older Theodore/Terry (Robert Wells) appear.

All are terrified of having word about this “escape” activity become public and are focused on privacy and security … As is Amy/the Judge, played by Mark Collins.

Skillful director Nick Sugar’s challenge is not only to help each actor develop a distinctive character, but really two characters — one of which is a woman — who must maneuver in a wig and high heels!

Costume designer Linda Morken has really done a sensitive job of dressing each with a different personality and color.

All are experienced performers, but vary a bit in confidence with these outfits. I’m certain that will become more comfortable with a weekend of performances under the belt.

Bessie has the idea of doing a “makeover” for the worried young Miranda, which is greeted with enthusiasm and a generous attitude — and cosmetics, eye makeup and padding come forth ... and voila!

Rita manages to serve dinner, although her cook has been hired elsewhere for the weekend and various conversations pad out the story as the well-crafted script proceeds. “When God created Woman, he overestimated his abilities,” surfaces along with “there is no black and white …”

And Rita, who owns a wig shop, has a carefully written monologue about meeting and marrying George, knowing this part of his life …

The playwright really tries to show all sides as well as entertain us, and I feel he succeeded. As Gloria says: “There is no black and white!”

Park preconceptions on the street and enjoy skillful storytelling for the evening.

I’d congratulate Town Hall’s planning committee for this choice in an otherwise predictable season including “Dames at Sea” and “Sister Act.”

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