By Brian Scott Lipton
“Funny.” “Touching.” “Sad.” These are just a few of the adjectives the cast of Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein’s “Casa Valentina” are using to describe his new drama, which debuts at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on April 1 in advance of an April 23 opening.
The play is set in 1962 at a small bungalow colony in New York’s Catskills Mountains that catered to heterosexual men, many of them married, white-collar professionals, who spent their weekends dressing and acting as women. While the work is fictional, it is based on a real place that Fierstein remembers knowing about as a child, when his family had a house in the Catskills. “Of course, my brother and I were more interested in spying on the nudist colony down the road,” he says with a laugh.
Moreover, although Fierstein has written about cross-dressers before, in such famed works as “La Cage Aux Folles,” he says he really had little knowledge of –or interest in – heterosexual transvestites until he was approached to write this play.
The show is being directed by Tony winner Joe Mantello. Fierstein says he chose Mantello because they had never worked together before, and because of the director’s reputation of working well with ensembles of top-flight actors. And what an ensemble it is: Tony winners John Cullum and Gabriel Ebert, Emmy winner Mare Winningham, and award-winning theater veterans Patrick Page, Reed Birney, Tom McGowan, Larry Pine, Nick Westrate, and Lisa Emery.
All of the men appear in drag, and each has their own take on the experience. For example, Page says wearing heels daily has made him more appreciative of what women – especially his wife, actress Paige Davis, goes through on a daily basis; while Ebert says he was disappointed that he doesn’t look like a 6-foot-7 supermodel.
True or not, there will be plenty to look at – and listen to – when audiences visit “Casa Valentina.”
MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street.
*Photos/Video: Magda Katz