Harvey Fierstein has always been ahead of the game in developing gay themed story lines. He was one of the first to bring drag queen characters to the mainstream and he also was on the forefront in introducing long term same sex relationships to audiences as as well as a storyteller putting a face to AIDS.
So his new Broadway play, "Casa Valentina," is not a surprise that its theme is one that has yet to reach the mainstream. The current Tony Award nominee for Best Play, "Valentina" is the story of a group of 1962 straight men who are transvestites. They gather at the "casa" on weekends to dress in women's clothing for various, personal reasons. Based upon a true story, "Casa" focuses on George, who is Valentina in dress.
At one June gathering, Valentina sees the opportunity to aid guest Charlotte in making the movement a national organization as a way to help save her failing resort. Dazzled by Charlotte's connections, Valentina's own opinions and ethics go out the door. At a meeting of the regulars, Charlotte presents the idea of finding power in numbers by formulating a more official organization. However, to the surprise of many of the guests, Charlotte asks each guest to sign a document saying they are not homosexual and will not allow homosexuals and their deviant behavior to be part of the organization. And this is where the story truly begins.
Sparks, or rather embers, ignite among the group as some feel the gays have been their true allies and they don't want to exclude them from being part of their group. Some members of the group also may not be as straight as they make out. In any event, the group as a whole is uneasy about signing the document which leads to some terrific acting moments by Tony nominee Reed Birney as Charlotte, Nick Westrate as Gloria and Larry Pine as Amy.
Birney, like Charlotte, takes command every time he's on stage. He sometimes seems to be channeling Charles Busch with his acid tongue and drool, cunning delivery. Westrate offers several stingy moments in his push back from signing the document and it's amazing to be able to read his thoughts through his facial expressions. Pine demonstrates raw, real emotion in a particularly wonderful scene between him and Birney, who puts her claws into him emotionally while keeping a smile on her face.
Also noteworthy is Tony nominee Mare Winningham as George's extremely understanding wife who slowly brings to the surface some of her fears as the story goes on.
But I do mention the show ignites more of an ember than a spark as, with all the good it has going for it, there just isn't enough conflict among the group to sustain enough dramatic tension for the production.
"Casa Valentina" is a good show and opens the door to perhaps more plays with similar subject matter. Interesting and groundbreaking it is but edgy and provocative it's not. Get tickets and more information at www.casavalentinabroadway.com.