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Casa Valentina

Also see John's reviews of Summer Shorts and Little Shop of Horrors

(top row l-r): Cliff Burgess, Roland Rusinek, Wayne LeGette; (bottom row, l-r): Kevin Reilley, Howard Elfman, Peter Galman
Casa Valentina is Harvey Fierstein's homage to a more innocent time, pre-Caitlyn, in the 1960s, where heterosexual men could schlep to the Catskills, dress as women, and bask in each other's problems. While the play itself is problematic, Gablestage has done a good job of showing us a slice of life that was furtive at best and illegal at worst.

At the "casa" we meet George (Wayne LeGette) and his understanding, to a point, wife Rita (Irene Adjan) who run the establishment every summer. With the full understanding of Rita, George revels in his inner self, known as "Valentina." Donning an Ann Miller wig and a torpedo bra, LeGette manages to lead the play without a hint of self-consciousness, turning in a, I was going to say "bra"vura performance, but let's call it a star turn.

Interestingly, Adjan has the more difficult role. This is George and Rita's second marriage. She knew what she was in for before she married him and seems to have accepted her fate. That they love each other is obvious. That her understanding of the entire situation unravels by play's end is heartbreaking. Ms. Adjan manages to play warmth, acceptance, and resignation in harrowing speed. Her eyes say paragraphs.

Joseph Adler directs with a slickness and careful eye for nuance. I wish he had toned down one actor, in particular, who delivers every line as though it should be followed by a rim shot. The others manage quite well. Special mention must be paid to Kevin Reilley as Charlotte, turning in a terrific performance as the villain of the piece. With a striking resemblance to Marian Seldes (which works!), Reilley spins his web of malice ever so delicately in act one and goes for the kill mid- act two. His monologue devastates the audience as well as the actor on the receiving end, Peter Galman as Amy, who, when out of drag, is an esteemed judge. Galman, in what is essentially a small role, is brilliant in his subtlety and one wishes he had more to do, because what he does is flawless. On the opposite end of the age scale, Ryan Didato as Jonathon/Miranda is heartbreaking in his youthful confusion.

Patti Gardner, Cliff Burgess, Howard Elfman, and Roland Rusinek complete the cast.

Is Casa Valentina for everyone? No. Is it a Fierstein laugh riot? No. Will it make you think about a subject that deserves your attention? Yes!

Casa Valentina is running through June 28th, 2015. Gablestage Theatre, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables, FL. 33134 Box office: 305-445-1119

Photo: George Schiavone

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- Jeffrey Bruce

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