Pictured: De De DeVille and Victor Raider-Wexler. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder/Spinning Tree Theatre.
By Lucas Crabtree
As I read the synopses for CASA VALENTINA I wondered if I’d be in for a night of drag and cross-dressing used as a punchline? I’ve never found the two to be particularly humorous comedic tools, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content of this production. There is a great story to be told here about the plight of “transvestites” (a word that has fallen out of acceptability) and their families.
CASA VALENTINA takes us to a resort in the year 1962 in the Catskill Mountains. George, the man who owns the resort, has a hidden identity he feels he cannot share with the world. Namely, he enjoys dressing and acting as a woman going by the name “Valentina.” He uses his property as a safe-haven for others like him. Our story begins on a weekend where George and others congregate to embrace their feminine side.
The first 15-20 minutes starts off relatively slow. We are introduced to the main characters, and get to see their personalities as both men and women.The actors do a great job playing both their male and female sides with believable characterization, and the dichotomy allows us to sympathize with them.
Charlotte, an activist for their cause, wants to discuss national recognition for transvestites. by asking the group to sign documents she believes will help gain them social acceptance. The cost of this petition is that each member must write down personal information and sign it. For most, however, it’s not about national recognition or power, it’s simply the unity they feel at the resort. After Charlotte makes her case, the group protests, claiming they don’t want anyone to find out about their secret lives. The end of act one reveals there may be more reason for their secrecy than meets the eye.
Act two delves into the dysfunction of the characters and their lives away from the resort. Most notably Rita (Jan Rogge), wife of George (John Rensenhouse), wrestles with great conflict over her role in her husband’s life, and feels as though she will always be third wheel to George’s alter ego, “Valentina.” Through their relationship, the show manifests how individuality in and of itself is not always righteous, and how others around become affected by those actions. Yet, our autonomy as people is what makes us who we are. This is a fine line to balance on, and CASA VALENTINA does a beautiful job displaying these conflicts.
I appreciate the honesty of this show. Rather than cashing in cheap laughs, the story encourages us to examine ourselves and others honestly so we as a society may live in harmony and unity.
Spinning Tree’s production of CASA VALENTINA has a great cast, solid direction, and an engaging story with an honest message. This is, after all, what makes plays worth seeing and Spinning Tree delivers.
CASA VALENTINA runs through November 12th. For more information visit spinningtreetheatre.com