Review: by Rebecca M. Alvin
In times like these, it’s difficult to discuss the intricacies of sexuality and gender as aspects of identity that exist on a broad spectrum. It’s even harder to discuss the psychology and individual differences of people with various identities or to dissect the psychology of an entire society predicated on strict adherence to the rule of gender norms, homophobia, and the underlying misogyny that connects these things. With the swirl of hateful gender and sexuality related laws in our midst, its easy to focus on some monolithic straight cisgender male side vs. the tolerant and accepting others. But there are many nuances and intersectional realities that remain just out of reach. This is where theater comes in.
Harvey Fierstein’s 2014 play Casa Valentina is inspired by the real-life Catskills haven for heterosexual male crossdressers, Casa Susanna, which was run by a straight married couple in the early 1960s. But as the play makes clear, sexuality and gender, while clearly distinct areas of identity, had and continue to have an interesting connection as the transvestite community of that era was not necessarily as open to the gay community as one would expect. Notions of queerness, male sexuality, and even the sexist implications of men equally confined by the patriarchal system into which they were born are all taken on in this play. But on top of all that heady stuff, this play is hilarious.
In this production of Casa Valentina at the Provincetown Theater, David Drake directs an ensemble cast, bringing to life characters navigating their own relationships with themselves, their partners, and their communities. It is set during a weekend at this accepting retreat when various regulars get away from their wives and families to indulge their feminine sides. A newcomer,Jonathon (Dustin Ross), arrives who is not as far along as the others in accepting his own desires and identity. The group takes him in and helps him bring out Miranda, his female identity. In addition, an activist and publisher named Charlotte (William Mullin), loosely based on transvestite writer and advocate, Virginia Prince, has come to talk with the group about plans for a “sorority.” But when the discussion of solidarity turns to a discussion of rejecting homosexuality while simultaneously coming out of the closet as transvestites, a multitude of viewpoints come out demonstrating embedded homophobia, as well as ambiguous sexual identities amongst “the girls.”
Fierstein is brilliant in writing bold, complex dialogue that builds to the height of tension and then is released with outrageously funny twists in it. The full cast are to be commended on embracing these complicated characters and portraying them with charm and grace. The comic relief of the group, however, is in the hands of Ken Lockwood as Bessie/Albert, whose delivery of Fierstein’s sarcastic, self-deprecating quips is a highlight. This is a play about standing up for your values, recognizing the alliances oppressed groups have with each other, and understanding that as complex as we are as individuals, we are all in this together.
Casa Valentina runs at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through May 28. Tickets ($50) are available at the box office or online at provincetowntheater.org. For more information call 508.487.7487.