Casa Valentina (REVIEW)

Casa Valentina By Robert Workman

Casa Valentina is the best show in London about Transvestites!

There's a house in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York where several men go to dress up in women's clothing. It's also a new play by Harvey Fierstein called 'Casa Valentina' now playing at the Southwark Playhouse.

Fierstein, whose other show in the West End is Kinky Boots, gives us a bit of a twist on Kinky Boots' theme where there are men who dress as drag queens purely for entertainment purposes. In Casa Valentina, we get straight men who dress up as women because they have that need. These men are from all different walks of life - yet they purely enjoy dressing up in women's clothing, and there's nothing sexual about it.

Jonathon (Ben Deery) shows up at Casa Valentina. He's a bit nervous because it's his first time at the house as he's used to dressing up on his own when his wife is away. He meets the owners of the house, Rita (Tamsin Carroll), whose married to George (Edward Wolstenholme). George's other name is Valentina, and it was his idea to create a safe space for men to dress up. Rita has accepted his fetish and is the glue that holds the house together. Along with looking after the men, she also provide a shoulder to cry on and and ear to listen to the men's issues. Jonathon encounters a bevy of different types of men there: one is The Judge, whose woman's name is Amy (Robert Morgan), another one is Bessie/Albert (Matthew Rixon) who has all he best lines and could possibly be modelled on Fierstein himself, and then there's Isadore/Charlotte (with two woman's names) (Gareth Snook) who leads the way for Transvestites and even campaigns at the highest level for people like them. But it's the newbie Jonathon who has a hard time fitting - his stab at dressing girly falls flat, so it's up to the 'girls' to dress him up and make him look pretty. And while these men may be camp, they are not gay, but they also want to remain anonymous. It's political activist Isadore who riles them up with her suggestion that they all go public - strength in numbers she says. It's get even more complicated when one of the men kiss Jonathon; this shakes up their entire unit like never before and it becomes a catalyst for their future relationship with each other.

'Casa Valetina' is staged in the round and it works successfully as each character floats from one side to the other very gracefully, and it gives the audience a chance to stare at their costumes and makeup. While they all look like men who dress up as woman, there are feminine qualities that they all possess; holding a purse, puckering up, wearing lipstick, and more importantly wearing a dress correctly. And all the actors are quite fine in their roles. Ashely Robinson is perfect as Gloria/Michael - he's got beautiful eyes that are accentuated when he's wearing makeup; handsome and gorgeous at the same time. Carroll is fine as the wife who's given up a 'normal' life to take care of the girls - she doesn't seem to realize that perhaps she has 'lost' her husband somewhere in his dressing up. Rixon is fabulous as Albert/Bessie - very quick with his funny lines. And Deery is perfect as the newbie - timid and shy and not too sure that he belongs there. Fierstein has not lost it in his several decades of playwriting - 'Casa Valentina' is funny and dramatic and hilarious and everything you could ask for in a play about transvestites.

Casa Valentina is now playing until October 10, 2015. To buy tickets, go here:

http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/casa-valentina/