Cross-dressers and gay men meet at Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Cross-dressers and gay men meet at Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina 

A gender-bending Catskills resort in 1962 takes center stage at Pride Films & Plays

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

click to enlarge Casa Valentina

Casa Valentina

Cody Jolly

My favorite question as an arts journalist is "Why now?" When Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina first hit New York stages in 2014, the answer seemed clear. Across the country, states had started to legalize queer marriage left and right; it wasn't a matter of if it would become the law of the land, but when. With the white weddings and registries, however, continued the question of assimilation: What do we lose when we insist we're just like everyone else? Or, more importantly, whom do we lose?

This beautifully acted show from Pride Films and Plays, directed by Michael D. Graham, scratches at those questions through a historic lens. Placing us in 1962, and using a false hierarchy between "homosexuals" and cross-dressers—straight men who dress up as conventional women—Fierstein gathers a group at a Catskills resort established exclusively for the latter. For the emphatically straight, cisgender men, it's an escape, an Eden where they "femmepersonate" in dresses and lipstick. They use she/her pronouns; they call each other by their chosen names. Some of their wives are in on the scheme, but most have families who choose to ignore the poorly kept secret.

But when one of the most prominent members of their community, Charlotte, arrives with a plot to decriminalize cross-dressing, they hit an impasse. Part of Charlotte's plan involves formally denouncing homosexuality, which would wipe away any sense of "gray" space for the community. Prejudices are quickly revealed and schisms emerge.

In 2014, this was a cautionary tale about the shortcomings of queer legitimacy in what felt like a newly optimistic time. In 2019, it feels like a complete dismantling of the very notion of that legitimacy, an assertion that accepting the vastness of sex and gender will always be impossible within the confines of the fickle state.   v

You Make Things Happen

Every dollar you give helps fund the experienced, diverse journalists and editors producing the Reader . Because the media landscape has changed, your support makes everything we do possible. Please give what you can to help keep journalism independent and thriving in Chicago. The Reader: We speak Chicago to Chicagoans.

Choose your monthly contribution level:

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 
 One-time donation  → 


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by KT Hawbaker

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical James M. Nederlander Theatre
February 12
Performing Arts
November 16

Popular Stories