I AM WHAT I AM
REVIEW: CASA VALENTINA
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
A group of men go into the woods and transform themselves into the beautiful dolled-up women they are inside—the West Coast premiere of Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina could not be more timely. Although this play is set in the 1960s the issues addressed are evermore present in our modern society, issues such as: transgender identity, the homosexual in society, discrimination, friendship, and marriage.
With mainstream entertainment like Transparent, Orange In the New Black, and Broadway shows, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rent and La Cage Aux Folles, the notion of the transgender individual, or cross dresser is not new or shocking, yet just this week the North Carolina state Legislature has passed a law blocking local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules to grant protections to gay and transgender people. The Pasadena Playhouse’s production of Casa Valentina is a wonderfully poignant piece of theater that entertains and echoes ideas of acceptance and peace for everyone.
Nine-time Emmy Award-winner David Lee of NBC’s Frasier expertly directs this work—what you get are three-Dimentional, relatable characters and a drama that unfolds with perfect momentum. Additionally, Fierstein’s sharp, quick-witted style of writing never gets lost—you get all the wit he’s know for, yet the central dramatic pillars are left intact to sustain the drama. Furthermore, adding to the impelling movement of the story is the fantastic rotating set design by Tom Buderwitz. Buderwitz’s set takes you in to all areas of small hotel in the Catskill Mountains—from upstairs bathroom down to the rooster wallpaper in the kitchen, the sense of home is clear.
Casting at its finest—the men and their female counterparts are absolutely delightful and dynamic. With each character you get a sense of the men that they are in their day-to-day lives and the women they are born into at Casa Valentina. Raymond McNally’s (Albert/Bessie) performance is superb and hilarious; he’s the mother hen of the house and the source of comic relief.
Robert Mammana (George/Valentina) is the strong husband who masterfully relates his urgent need to become Valentina—Mammana seamlessly flows back and forth between the conflicts of both his personas, he’s an engaging protagonist in both lives. James Snyder (Jonathan/Miranda) is the newcomer to Casa Valentina; he plays the role with true innocence and fear—the audience feels every step in his journey for identity. Valerie Mahaffey (Rita) is the only real women in the house. Mahaffey’s acting is exquisite, she gives you the sense of her inner strife in the midst of the all commotion—she effectively holds together the story about marriage.
Plan your visit to Casa Valentina at the Pasadena Playhouse—there’s something for everyone in the Catskills. Casa Valentina runs from March 15 – April 10, 2016, for more information and tickets visit: www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.