Lawrence Pressman, Raymond McAnally, Mark Jude Sullivan, Christian
Clemenson (standing), John Vickery and Robert Mammana (standing) in
“Casa Valentina” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Photo by: Jim Cox
Click on photo for full effect.
The Pasadena Playhouse ventures into the land of Broadway to
a standing ovation. The time:
1962. The Catskill Mountains, New York.
George (Robert Mammana) and his lovely wife, Rita (Valerie Mahaffey),
have run this small resort for years, entertaining all sorts of folks who want
to escape the City. The twist is
that George is a transvestite: a heterosexual male who enjoys life from time to
time being a woman. The foundation of this piece is a
strong polemic and part drama as Valentina (George’s alter ego) hosts a group
of fellow cross dressers.. well, sisters, as it were, for a weekend ‘en femme’
to relax and enjoy each others' company.
Harvey Fierstein’s voice is unmistakable throughout as the jokes roll comfortably
from rotund Bessie (Raymond McAnally) who loves to quote Oscar Wilde and whose
flamboyant approach to expressing “her” feminine side floats the scene
beautifully in Act One.
an interesting approach for an out and expressive gay playwright to tackle the
secret lives of men who are not gay but are condemned for their secret love of
expressing their feminine side. It’s the early sixties, seven years
before the 1969 Stonewall Riots and homosexuals are still mostly in the
Enter Jonathan (James Snyder), a newcomer to the group. He has discovered this safe haven for
men in dresses and comes prepared to share the company of others. He had felt that he was the ‘only one’ to
enjoy being a girl and now he’s in the thick of all things feminine. His first effort appearing as Miranda
is rather embarrassing, but the ‘girls’ come to the rescue with the cry,
“MAKEOVER!” With a tule underskirt, some makeup and hair adjustments Miranda is
applauded as one of the group.
Charlotte/Isadore (excellent Christian Clemenson) has just arrived from
California and is a well known advocate for the rights of crossdressers. She
intends to recruit this group to be the first East Coast Chapter of her
non-profit sorority. The fly in the ointment is that real names and addresses
are required to take this monumental step. Charlotte declares that the non-profit will legitimize their ‘harmless
hobby.’ With legitimization, this activity will then be embraced by the world. Yeh... right.
However, not everyone in this ‘sorority’ feels comfortable
with the idea. Charlotte,
fashioned on Dr. Virginia Prince, a leading advocate for crossdressers for
almost fifty years, is a zealot. Members of this casual gathering are not so
sure they want to risk their reputations by ‘coming out.’ It is also very important to Charlotte
that members sign a document that declares that they are strictly
heterosexual! The most senior
attendee, Terry/Theodore (Laurence Pressman) reminds that men of their persuasion
have always been welcomed at gay bars and various drag balls and other
events. Why, then, wouldn’t that
be reason to at least embrace them as in return?
In Act II alcohol is flowing and a cute pantomime number is
performed by Valentina, Gloria (sassy Mark Jude Sullivan) and Bessie. Charlotte’s efforts to encourage
Valentina to bring the girls on board for the East Coast Chapter of the
sorority turn dark and what has seemed to be a strong political effort to
defuse the limbic reaction to men in dresses deteriorates quickly. John Vickery (The Judge) brings a new
element into the play which turns it on its ear.
A fine turn in a major plot twist by Nike Doukas as Eleanor
mirrors ignorant fears and obliterates much of the basic good will established throughout the play.
David Lee’s direction on an truly gorgeous 1960s era
turntable set by Tom Buderwitz is smooth and steady. Each character emerges as a human being in an individual
way. Someone points out that there
are shades of gray to every issue and with this issue, each character is
involved with his/her character’s activity in a very unique way. This is no lampoon or fraternity skit.
The sincerity of each of these men and his approach to becoming a woman if only
temporarily is undeniable. Charlotte
in her denegration of the gay lifestyle asks if the others don’t find it
disgusting and repulsive. Doth the lady protest too much? Gloria,
probably the person most in the middle gray area, refuses to exclude anyone
because of sexual orientation.
(L-R): Robert Mammana and Valerie Mahaffey in “Casa Valentina” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Photo by: Jim Cox Photography
Click on photo for full effect.
It must be noted that the lovely Valerie Mahaffey as
Valentina’s wife, Rita, delivers a very natural and heart rending performance as
the sole (and soulful) woman in the midst of this collection of ‘girls.’ Her examination of who her husband,
George, really is and where she stands with him and how she is related to his
alter ego, Valentina, renders more questions than are answered in the
Though not expressed specifically, the difference between
these crossdressers and others in the slippery slope of transgender,
transsexual, bisexual and other sub categories of gender exploration, it sounds
as though the heterosexual male aspect of the activity is vital to those who
practice it. The plot ventures
down a dark path which allows for a strong rebuttal to the fun the audience has
had by the appearance of Nike Doukas whose contrary feelings to the whole scene
As with Fierstein’s successful outing with Torch Song
Trilogy: three related one acts, one would hope that a further examination of
this issue might be fodder for more exploration. Rita, the understanding wife, is challenged as most folks
would be as to how to relate to someone
(George/Valentina) who insists that they are totally sane and at the
same time two very different people.
Bessie (Albert) declares that his feminine counterpart is the ideal
wife. “She” accepts all of
Albert’s attention and gifts and care. He loves to be generous and attentive to
With the rise of LGBT awareness, even today with Los Angeles
Mayor Eric Garcetti establishing a Transgender Advisory Council for the City of Los Angeles,
and as mentioned in my previous review of CLOUD NINE with gender switching as a
major part of the plot, RuPaul’s One Hundredth Drag Race show and other gender
issues crowding the front page, this activity which has been going on for a
long, long time, being brought to light by a story over fifty years old must be
at least worthy of understanding.
CASA VALENTINA by Harvey Fierstein
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
Through April 10, 2016
Tickets and Information:
626 356 7529