Entertainment » Theatre

Casa Valentina

by Clinton Campbell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Oct 30, 2015
Eddie Shields, Thomas Derrah and  Robert Saoud
Eddie Shields, Thomas Derrah and Robert Saoud  (Source:Glenn Perry/SpeakEasy Stage)

Speakeasy Stage is continuing their 25th anniversary season with an outstanding New England premiere of Harvey Fierstein's Tony-nominated "Casa Valentina."

The play centers around a summer bungalow retreat in the Catskill Mountains catering to heterosexual men who secretly prefer to dress and behave as women. A fictional work, it is based upon the former real life Casa Susanna (and its husband and wife proprietors) outside of Hunter, NY. Although set in 1962, the topics covered are still fresh and relevant, proving again the old adage "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Make no mistake: This is not a show about drag queens or transgender individuals. The Casa is a refuge for these (white) men to take a break from their day-to-day personas and luxuriate in their feminine sides for a weekend. It's a vacation for their souls or spirits, if you will. As one comments, it's a place for them to "breathe."

Will McGarrahan and Greg Maraio¬†  (Source:Glenn Perry/SpeakEasy Stage)

They are also the first to remind you that they are certainly not gay. In fact, some are downright homophobic in a most visceral way. In the pre-Stonewall era, even the suggestion could carry very real consequences.

The topic ultimately becomes a source of great tension among the men as a proposal is raised for their "sorority" to become a registered non-profit organization.

Director Scott Edmiston has brought together a stellar cast led by the always impeccable Thomas Derrah as George/Valentina, the proprietor/-trix of the Casa. Mr. Derrah has long been one of the finest actors working in Boston and he proves it again here. His Valentina is complex and deeply flawed, yet so warm and well intentioned, that you cannot help but root for her.

As for the remaining members of the sorority, each one is a joy to watch. Will McGarrahan is a driven and proud Charlotte that demands your respect. Greg Maraio is heartbreaking as the first time attendee, Miranda. Timothy Crowe and Sean McGuirk are captivating as the elder members of the group, Amy and Terry. Eddie Shields as Gloria is always lovely and charming. And everyone needs a Bessie in their life, especially as portrayed by Robert Saoud.

Thomas Derrah and Kerry A. Dowling  (Source:Glenn Perry/SpeakEasy Stage)

The show is balanced out by two women, referred to as GGs ("genuine girls"). Kerry A Dowling portrays Rita, George's wife and co-proprietrix, and Deb Martin shines in a brief, but devastating, role as Amy's daughter, Eleanor.

Rita's place is as the always supportive wife, as well as sometime mother to the other women. Ms. Dowling's performance is subtle and nuanced, and could possibly be overlooked, but it is provides the emotional grounding that reminds us of the struggle these men face.

The design team has managed to create a true "rustic" feel to the production. Janie Howland's sets evoke the time and area of the country without becoming too literal, and Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes avoid the tendency of any period piece to go for textbook perfection. The dresses (while lovely) seem natural and appropriate for these characters to wear.

"Casa Valentina" is a challenging and thought provoking play, touching on identity, gender roles, minorities, marriage and myriad other things though both laughter and tears. It is a highly satisfying evening and one that should not to be missed.

Casa Valentina continues through November 28 at the Roberts Studio Theater, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For further information, visit the SpeakEasy Stage website.

Watch the trailer to the SpeakEasy Stage's production of "Casa Valentina":

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