I love it when a play is so engrossing that you lose track of where you are, when you lose yourself in a bygone time. I also love it when you learn a little something while being transported on an emotional journey. Casa Valentina is one of those plays that did all of that and more for me.
Leave it to Harvey Fierstein to bring the humor and humanity to what is still a misunderstood and taboo topic. That the play wears its heart and its politics on its sleeve isn't surprising from this celebrated writer. But that certainly doesn't mean that there aren't some wonderful surprise plot twists, not to mention a certain prejudice that never even occurred to me. And there is a very satisfying ending that is purposely ambiguous, forcing you to think well beyond the curtain call, not only about what will happen to the characters, but also about where you stand on the play's issues.
|A Lady is Born: Gabriel Ebert (center) is Miranda|
Mare Winningham is Rita and Nick Westrate is Gloria
Tom McGowan is Bessie and Larry Pine is Amy
John Cullum is Terry
The two characters embroiled in the central conflict and larger issues of the story are in the very capable hands of the incredibly versatile Patrick Page, and the mesmerizing (and infuriating) Reed Birney. Page's deep voice is a startling reminder that there is a man underneath his female persona, the titular Valentina. It is that same voice that makes for his male-self's greatest defense and mask. Like many of the people in this play, George/Valentina is grappling with much deeper concerns than which dress to wear to dinner. The one visitor to this private getaway who seems (seems) most sure of her place in society is Charlotte, and Mr. Birney is chameleon-like in inhabiting the many faces of this complex person. The line between Charlotte and the man behind her is practically non-existent. But this surety of purpose reveals some rather nasty beliefs and a jaw-dropping bigotry that takes the word "bitch" to a whole new level. Both Page and Birney are actors at the very top of their game.
Patrick Page is Valentina and Reed Birney is Charlotte
Last year's Best Play made the case for a much needed Tony Award for Ensemble acting. Casa Valentina should seal the deal. This company is so superb. The show was just extended through June 29. Miss them at your own peril.
Photos by Bruce Gilkas