Casa Valentina Review - Seeking the Girl Within

Four-time Tony winner playwright Harvey Fierstein and nine-time Emmy winner director David Lee have assembled a dream cast and production crew to present CASA VALENTINA - and it shows. Based on real events in the Catskills in the 1960's, this play recreates the safe haven for cross-dressing heterosexual men, the Casa Susanna resort. From a box of fading photos found at a local flea market which showed elegantly-dressed women - oops, men - having the time of their lives in the “World of Suddenly Women,” Fierstein fleshed out the tale of transvestites on a holiday. As a bonus, he scattered uproarious gems throughout: “Words are things I use to keep my mouth occupied between meals.” Although Fierstein does far more with his skilled use of language.

 

Robert Mammana and Valerie Mahaffey - Photo by Jim Cox Photography

Coming to spend an anticipated weekend, six visitors arrive at the Casa Valentina, owned and operated by George - who prefers to be called Valentina - and his wife Rita (Valerie Mahaffey). Quickly shucking their male duds, they emerge like butterflies from a cocoon as Bessie (Raymond McAnally), Gloria (Mark Jude Sullivan), Terry (Lawrence Pressman), Amy (John Vickery), Charlotte (Christian Clemenson), first-timer Miranda (James Snyder), and Valentina (Robert Mammana). It’s a heaven away from home, where all masks can be removed and these men can let their inner women come out and dance.

 

Lawrence Pressman, Raymond McAnally, Mark Jude Sullivan, Christian Clemenson, John Vickery, and Robert Mammana - Photo by Jim Cox Photography

Everything seems to be perfect - even if Valentina is being investigated by the Federal Post Office Department because of an envelope with unknown contents mailed by an unknown sender. Suddenly, just when everything is comfy and fun, Charlotte’s hidden agenda surfaces. She has formed a corporation called “The Sorority” and wants to “out” the happy crowd in order to further her goal of curbing discrimination. But, as Bessie remarks, “Politics and prosthetics don’t mix.” Therein lies the conflict - and a conflict which, to some extent, persists even today.

 

James Snyder, Valerie Mahaffey, Raymond McAnnally, and Robert Mammana - Photo by Jim Cox Photography

Creative scenic designer Tom Buderwitz’s set is especially noteworthy - two floors and multiple rooms on a rotating dish. There can be no secrets when every scene is quickly visible. Talented costume designer Kate Bergh has outdone herself in creating festive 60's clothing to fit every scene (and male shape). Rick Geyer’s wig, hair, and make-up help to transform these butterflies in brilliant ways. The era is also rejuvenated through Philip G. Allen’s sounds of the 60's, with pop music keeping the ambience on target.

 

Lawrence Pressman, Valerie Mahaffey, Mark Jude Sullivan, James Snyder, Christian Clemenson, and Raymond McAnally - Photo by Jim Cox Photography

CASA VALENTINA is a very funny production with a timely message. Audience alert: this is not the play for you if you have difficulty with questions of gender. Otherwise, be sure to see this hysterical and intriguing comedy.

Robert Mammana, Valerie Mahaffey, and Nike Doukas - Photo by Jim Cox Photography

 

CASA VALENTINA runs through April 10, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. Tickets range from $25 to $77 with premium seating at $125. For reservations, call 626-356-7529 or go online at www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

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