Last week, four members of the MHVTA TG support group went to NYC to see the play “Casa Valentina” in previews The play is based on an actual place in the Catskills of New York State where crossdressers would go to be themselves back in the 1960s. There’s a book, Casa Susanna with pictures of the participants, including a member of our support group, Felicity, who passed away a few years ago at the age of 102.
The play is produced by the Manhattan Theater Club and in the Playbill magazine story about the show, the author (Harvey Fierstein) and director (Joe Mantello) wrote:
Casa Valentina was inspired by events that took place in and around the Chevalier d’Eon Resort [Ed. Note: Later called Casa Sussana] in the Catskill Mountains in 1962.
The gentlemen in our play are not drag queens or female impersonators. Although the outward behavior unites them, their need to dress and identify as female is personal and individual to each. For some, it’s a matter of gender identity. For others the desire is of a sexual nature. But there is nothing frivolous or arbitrary in their behavior.
It might interest you to know that the organization they helped found during the action of this play is still in existence with more than 30 active chapters nationwide (known as the “Society of the Second Self” or “Tri;Ess”).
We would like to thank Katherine Cummings for helping us unlock the date and slip into this fascinating garden of delights.
And with that, we welcome you to Casa Valentina.
Welcome to the world of self-made women.”
There were nine actors in the performance including two cisgender women. The play is set in a rural resort, very much like a glorified hunting cabin but nothing like the resorts of today. Bare bones. The actors performed their parts quite well. One actor was George/Valentina (Susanna). Another was Charlotte (Virginia Prince who founded Tri-Ess). The story is about the group of crossdressers coming together and the reasons they feel compelled to dress. As one states, “I want to feel normal”.
Act 1 was dead on perfect and both Eileen and I related to the story and the dialog.
Charlotte raises the issue of the founding of the “Society” which is the reason Charlotte is there but it’s the dividing line for some. That’s what causes the friction in Act 2 with the motivations of each portrayed in brutal honesty, “I’m afraid,” “I’m not going to risk,” “It will split families.”
As good as Act 1 was, I was disappointed with the ending (as were my companions) in that it wasn’t portrayed as happy but severe, and I was left expecting more. The story was good but it got muddled into controversy as did the founding of the Tri-Ess group. Virginia Prince’s idea was this was a group (“Society”) for hetrosexual crossdressers only and belied the need to engage with the homosexual community. There was true emotion from all the participants and it was very well crafted in the different points of view — from the judge who dressed to the first time attendee who was scared of his/her own shadow, to Valentina who was married but wanted sanity in his/her life.
The actors were great. Some are well established actors with scores of film and TV credits along with other legitimate theater production experience. They didn’t come across as drag queens. The story was good, albeit the ending. The theater was packed — probably 90% full at least from our vantage point. We debated what we’d give it. Definitely an A in Act 1 and probably a B- in Act 2. Overall I’d give it a B. You’ll enjoy the story and recognize the community on stage. I’d encourage you to attend.
And the ladies in our party wondered how long a play about the CD community will run. My guess is three months and Eileen’s was longer but we wondered how well it will be received. It’s not Jersey Boys.