PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Casa Valentina — Harvey's Girls

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24 Apr 2014

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Gabriel Ebert
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
"I tell this story in the play," said Fierstein. "As a man, he was a soldier and diplomat. As a woman, she was a spy — so effective a spy she got exiled from France. The King said, 'You can return to France only if you stop dressing as a boy and just wear girl clothes' — he even paid for her wardrobe — so she came back to France and lived the rest of her life as a woman. Only when she died did they discover she was a he.

"So these transvestites named their resort and their publishing company after her." Casa Valentina is a return to form for Fierstein — his first straight play (pardon the expression) since his week-long Safe Sex back in 1987. He began as a Tony-winning playwright with Torch Song Trilogy in 1982 and, somewhere along the line, turned into a Tony-winning musical-book writer. Right now, he's steady and holding with a half-dozen Tonys, and, and he is currently represented on the Main Stem with his Tony-nominated adaptations of Newsies and Kinky Boots.

His two acting Tonys were for playing a drag queen (Arnold Beckoff in Torch Song Trilogy) and an actual woman (Edna Turnblad in Hairspray). The characters populating his Casa Valentina fall between the cracks of those two performances.

"The truth is, I wasn't all that interested in heterosexual transvestites," Fierstein admitted, "but, when I started reading their writings, something really struck me. "Our community includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, true spirit — everyone, right? — but not heterosexual transvestites. What grabbed me was: Why did they get cut out of our world? Why aren't they part of our struggle? We get rights. They don't.

"In the '70s when The American Psychiatric Society declassified homosexuality as a disease, it also declassified homosexual cross-dressing as a disease — but heterosexual cross-dressing is still considered a disease. Why would that be? We're all just human beings. So I did some digging and found that in 1962 this decision was made by the leaders of that community to ban homosexuals, cross-dressers, transgender people and clothing fetishists. They believed society would never accept homosexuals or transgender people, but, if they realized all we do is dress up and express our love of women and we're all heterosexual children, then they would accept us and it'd become absolutely acceptable and normal to be a transvestite."

The play that grew out of this research is Fierstein's attempt to throw a spotlight on a heretofore invisible minority. The seven who show up for the resort's staid, tame fun 'n' games, all straight and laced, make quite a group shot. For all their feminine fuss 'n' feathers, they pride themselves in their heterosexuality and are understandably alarmed to learn one of their number is — how did he ever get in? — a genuine gay.


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