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

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24 Apr 2014

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Genuine girls — "G.G.s" — are permitted on the premises (two, anyway), and, although the roles played by Lisa Emery and Mare Winningham are small and secondary, the playwright has packed both of them with enough emotional explosives to blow the guys out of the water — or, at least, out of their selfish, indulgent complacency.

Winningham, who nabbed a Featured Actress nomination from the Outer Critics Circle earlier this week for her work as Rita here, runs this resort of the last resorts with her husband (George by day/Valentina by night, both played by Patrick Page).

"It was his dream to open a safe haven for cross-dressers," she explained, "so I approach this with a very open mind and open heart, but there are challenges to all aspects of a marriage. I must say, though, as a couple, they are The Holy Grail of the cross-dressing couples, and all of the other people at the resort admire their marriage because it's been an open marriage about this from the beginning since the day we met.

"Harvey built this play beautifully. Halfway through, you may wonder, 'Is Rita just receding?' She seems to be someone who's losing something, and then — wow! He gives those last two scenes to her. Her pain is fully revealed, and so is her strength."

Page, who flew wildly hither and yon as The Green Goblin in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, owned up to some trouble negotiating his way across the room in high heels. "I've never worn heels. I tried to wear them once to a Halloween party, and I fell right off of them and ended up wearing combat boots, so I really had to work on walking in women's shoes. Anything that one does on stage — there are going to be people in the audience who do it for real. I don't smoke, so if I had to smoke on stage, I'd have to take it up for some time in order to be convincing as a smoker. Otherwise, smokers in the audience would go, 'Oh, he doesn't know how to smoke.'"

As proprietor of the place, Page looms much like the lead because he's either running the show or at the center of the action. "The inner circle is really getting together on this weekend to codify what they are and to make some rules and to go public in a way. At least that's Valentina's desire and Charlotte's desire — but they come up with some resistance from other members of the group. Remember: It's 1962, and all of these men are heterosexual men with families, jobs, careers, and some of them are not too keen about having their names published anywhere."

At 84, John Cullum can still steal scenes and focus from the best of 'em. He plays Terry, the eldest of the transvestites, and his presence on that stage brings much dignity to the enterprise (as it did to Urinetown before it become a Tony winner).


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