Comedy Looks at World of Straight Cross Dressing

A local all-star cast headlines GableStage’s production of Harvey Fierstein’s “Casa Valentina,” the story of a Catskills resort that catered to heterosexual cross-dressers. Credit: George Schiavone

GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler isn’t a big fan of Harvey Fierstein’s musicals. But when it comes to the Tony Award-winning playwright and actor’s plays, that’s a different story.

After Fierstein’s latest comedy, “Casa Valentina” closed on Broadway last year, Adler didn’t wait to snag the rights.

“It really should have won the Tony (for best new play),” Adler insists.

Thanks to GableStage’s reputation for excellence and Adler’s strong relationships with Broadway powerbrokers, the Coral Gables theater will present the regional premiere next weekend.

Set in 1962 and based on actual events, “Casa Valentina” is the story of an inconspicuous Catskill Mountains bungalow colony in the Borscht Belt and its special clientele: white collar, heterosexual men with families whose favorite pastime was to dress and act like women. But, when given the opportunity to share their special lives with the world, the “girls” are faced with a dilemma that could risk public ridicule and personal ruin.

“They’re not drag queens and they’re not gay,” explained Adler, “but the play offers a fascinating look at a subculture about which very little is known.”

Even though the transgender community has been thrust into the spotlight in recent years thanks to television and documentaries, heterosexual cross dressers still live in a closet of sorts.

“It’s not pretty,” the director added, noting the cast doesn’t include professional female impersonators or drag queens, but an A-list group of local actors, including Cliff Burgess, Ryan Didato, Howard Elfman, Peter Galman, Wayne LeGette, Keven Reilley and Roland Rusinek.

The actors began rehearsing in heels weeks ago and their first make-up session was “memorable,” Adler said, and “very funny.”

The script is full of Fierstein’s smart wit and plenty of laughs, but the play is also a very touching story about relationships and self-discovery.

Patti Gardner plays the daughter of a judge, who must come to grips with her father’s hobby and the consequences if his secret is revealed.

Adler is never at a loss for words and he promises an entertaining evening that will appeal to the diverse audiences at GableStage, both straight and gay, who will be able to relate to the characters, their struggles and successes.

GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave. in Coral Gables, presents Harvey Fierstein’s “Casa Valentina” through June 28. Performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $47-55 at GableStage.org.


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