by Shirley Lorraine
Secrets Abound at Santa Paula’s Casa
A retro revelation into a world many of us have little or no knowledge of takes the main stage at the Santa Paula theater Center. Casa Valentina, written by Harvey Fierstein (of Kinky Boots, La Cage Aux Folle fame) is based on actual events. Casa explores an exclusive resort in the Catskills catering to straight men who desire a place to dress and act as women, even for a brief time.
In 1962, the play’s setting, such a desire was strictly taboo and considered a severe embarrassment. Although great strides have been made, even today there is still a wealth of misunderstanding, derision and even fear surrounding transvestite lifestyle. Women dress as men –why are men not afforded the same acceptance? Casa Valentina explores this story of a few brave men who retreat to New York’s Catskill mountains for an annual rejuvenation of spirit.
With Fred Helsel at the Director’s helm, the seasoned cast takes on this enlightenment challenge beautifully.
Chip Albers plays George who transforms into the capable and confident Valentina. Aided by his understanding wife Rita, portrayed by Sindy McKay, the two assist each guest to become comfortable in their temporary roles as women.
A retreat regular, Bessie (Albert) is given larger than life attributes by Allan Noel. By far the most outspoken of the group, Albert embraces his inner femininity with gusto.
He is joined by Michael/Gloria, a younger regular played by the versatile and enchanting Trent Trachtenberg. The other end of the age spectrum is covered by Doug Friedlander as Theodore/Terry, a vision in lavender.
Rounding out the mix are long-time attendees Judge (Ronald Rezac) who becomes Amy, and Isadore (Elixeo Flores) who embodies Charlotte, a zealot for change. Both are solid in their portrayals.
Enter Jonathan, a first-time guest, in the form of Michael Adams, who takes tentative steps towards becoming Miranda. The regulars all lend their expertise on dressing attractively, hair and make-up assistance and other delicate tips in order to ease the transition.
As the men settle into their alternate selves, tensions rise over questions of potentially identifying themselves as a legitimate group which would involve some privacy being compromised. Not unlike today, fears of retribution cause some to back away, not knowing how their careers or personal lives may be impacted. Acceptance must start from within and project outward. Some just aren’t ready to reveal that side of their lives.
The Casa is struggling to stay open and keep financial solidity. These uncertainties, coupled with each man’s personal reasons for maintaining privacy, threaten the Casa’s very existence.
The story is told with insight, humor and compassion. We witness mental and physical transitions, realities of political climate and societal fears, not unlike those we still endure today, some 50 years later. The play is a timely picture of the constancy of misunderstanding and fear surrounding elements of life that apply to a select few. Hopefully, writings such as Casa Valentina will ease misconceptions and help toward acceptance of all persons.
Casa Valentina continues through July 28 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th Street, Santa Paula. Tickets for the Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m. performances may be obtained via 805-525-4645 and www.santapaulatheatercenter.org. Adults are $24, Seniors and Student $22. Children not advised due to content.