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The Play Goer: Colonial Players’ Casa Valentina

These creative cross-dressers would just like to have fun. But can they? 

photo by David Colburn/Colburn Images/ Kevin Wallace, playing Albert/Bessie, reacts to the Judge, Mike Dunlop.
      "Men’s clothing is the fashion equivalent of Mexican food: eight ingredients served 75 ways."
       Harvey Fierstein’s 2014 Tony-nominated play Casa Valentina, brought to Annapolis by The Colonial Players, invites you to step back to a June weekend in 1962 at the Casa Valentina, a rustic bungalow community in the Catskills.
       The play opens on George (Jim Gallagher) and Rita (Laura Gayvert), a happily married heterosexual couple with a couple of small twists: George is a cross dresser who becomes Valentina on the weekend, and their bungalow community regularly hosts weekends away for white-collar heterosexual men escaping wives and family responsibilities. Instead of playing poker or going fishing, Valentina’s guests come to put on dresses, makeup and heels. As guest Albert/Bessie (Kevin Wallace), explains to newcomer Jonathan/Miranda (Jason Vellon) “Here, we breathe.”
      There are clues from the start that all is not just girls wanting to have fun. George and Rita are on the verge of bankruptcy, and questionable ­photos sent to a guest at Casa ­Valentina have been opened by the post office. Hoping for an infusion of cash and some publicity, George has invited a special guest from California for the weekend, Charlotte (Tom Wyatt), the leader of a national transvestite sorority. Stylish Charlotte is also the serpent in the garden.
       Director Mickey Lund has created a masterful production, guiding his actors from the spirited banter of a group of girls getting together for a fun weekend away to increasingly dark disclosures and events, which will ultimately alter lives.
      Jim Gallagher as George gives a fine performance as an ordinary man with an ordinary life who comes alive only as the doyenne Valentina. 
      Laura Gayvert deftly moves her character from the nurturing, supportive wife to the dawning realization that there may come a day when George’s female alter ego, Valentina, will never leave.
       Kevin Wallace is a pleasure to watch as the decorated war hero Albert aka the Oscar Wilde-quoting matron Bessie.
      As Michael/Gloria, Eric Lund is the most classically feminine and stylish of the guests.
     Tony Wyatt is vicious as sociable Charlotte, single minded in her quest and downright evil in her means to an end.
      Jason Vellon’s Jonathan/Miranda is likable as an uncertain young teacher coming to Casa Valentina for the first time.
      The two elder members of the group, Theodore/Terry (Peter Wilkes) and the Judge/Amy (Mike Dunlop) are charming, frumpy old women.
      As the judge’s daughter, Vance Coffey’s Eleanor is nasty, an element critical to her role, and she plays it well (though I’m sure she’s really very nice).
      The play takes place over 14 hours, with transitions from day to night, as well as scene and mood changes, well handled by lighting designed by Alex Brady.
      Laurie Nolan’s simple set of the slightly shabby resort fits Colonial Players’ theater in the round. Property design and set decoration for the resort are the brainchild of Constance Robinson. 
      Choreography by Darise Clewell and music by sound designer Ben Cornwell are true to the era and — for those of us who have memories of those dances and tunes — nostalgic fun. Clewell also does the makeup for the men, transforming them from guys to gals. 
     Fran Marchand and Christina McAlpine chose the authentic 1960s’ costumes, creating fabulous women from drab men. Doug Dawson handled the design of the wigs, recreating the hairstyles of the era: the beehive, French twist and bouffant, along with, of course, the flip and bangs of Annette. 
       The intricate stage managing was handled by Andy McLendon.
       Producers for the production are Heather Quinn and Mary Watko.
      All together, they make a very entertaining show, though one with a subject and some very frank dialogue that may not be appreciated by all.
ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm thru June 17: (running approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission) East St. off State Circle, Annapolis, $23 w/discounts, rsvp: