Harvey Fierstein & Hans Von Rittern and Casa Susanna/Valentina
Photo of the day: HARVEY FIERSTEIN AND HANS SEE “CASA VALENTINA” TOGETHER – well….kinda…
Harvey came to see his show last night and I was sitting right near him.
THE SHOW IS FUCKING BRILLIANT! It is based on a cult book “Casa Susanna” which contains flea market find photos of women in the Catskills in 1962 – the women were men. Not drag queens, but men who simply had the desire to express their feminine side on the weekend and go on doing ordinary household chores leading an ordinary life for two days…as a ‘ordinary’ woman. All were married with children. It is not sensationalist Fierstein drag. It is a dramedy of social mores and sexual politics of the sixties,
To be very honest – I didn’t want to see this play. I thought,’who are you to further expose what was to have been private?”
My mother has always said to me, “please destroy all family pictures if there is no one left in your family. I don’t want to wind up in some flea market and have total stranger pawing over my photos and doing god knows what with them.” I sadly agree. So I felt, who is Harvey to do this – how is he to know what really these people were about and what went on, sorry theater fans, this is how I felt. Yet the book haunted and fascinated me of the sadness yet sensation of this secret world revealed. Reluctantly I bought the cheapest discount ticket possible. I brought my treasured copy of the book along with me.
Almost full house. Curtain rises. I am sitting there with arms folded, negative Nancy. ‘Ok, what did you do with this?’ After 5 minutes I was riveted. The visuals, the acting – breathtaking. I abandoned all doubt and negativity and realized I was watching something intensely personal and brilliant. Half way though act one, I kept thinking to myself, ‘where and how did Harvey come up with this, how did this come out of his head?’ Each actor is cast to perfection for the part. I flipped through my book trying to guess who was who. After a while it didn’t seem to matter, there were real people onstage.
It’s story is of intrigue, mystery, politics, raw emotions, sharp wit, great humor, 1960’s sexual politics, being exposed, homophobia, buried secrets, gut wrenching moments, great sets, superb lighting. Mare Winningham and Reed Birney are FUCKING BRILLIANT! Birney channels Margo Channing/All About Eve yet does not imitate her, it is her fiery essence – it is riveting sheer brilliance at what a strong determined (calculating) woman he portrays. He should have won the damn Tony award he was nominated for as best actor in a play. Mare’s voice projects to the upper balcony even in her most quiet sad moments – that’s technique! (They were not micked.) John Collum is everyone’s grandmother of the period.
The setting is the Chevalier d’Eon, a Catskills resort where button-down married men from the city can slip into something more comfortable for the weekend. This sanctuary is run by George (Patrick Page) and his infinitely accommodating wife, Rita (Mare Winningham). And if the place is a bit run down, for its guests it remains “our own Garden of Eden.” But Harvey being the brilliant Harvey, he has set a serpent loose in their garden of Eden, and you are hooked.
During intermission I asked to buy the poster. The head usher saw I was carrying the book. He tells me several of the men are still alive and the man who took the photos actually had come to see the play! I come further to find out, that of the men/women who are still alive, Harvey (I think) felt it his duty (and privilege) to interview them. So some of the mystery was gone, but yet all the more heightened. Who are they and what has become of them?! I was obsessed with the fact that the usher knew what the photographer of most of the photos looks like! I am even more energized for act two for now I know how much more ‘real’ the story is and I was watching also a history lesson unfold.
As I am waiting for the curtain to go up, coming up my aisle is an unmistakable figure of man – it’s the playwright himself Harvey Fierstein! He sat 1 row across from me! I had to go over to him to ask to sign my poster. “He’s got the book,” he growled to his friend. I grabbed his wrist and kept babbling “it’s brilliant! It’s brilliant’! Hans tongue tied = not often. Back to my seat. I now watched the show and out of the corner of the eye watched this Broadway royalty watching his own show. Surreal. He laughed at the jokes, was stoned faced at the serious moments, just like the rest of us.
Harvey’s reactoin to Jonathan Groff (blue t-shirt) being there
After the show I ran to the stage door and got the cast to sign the poster. Glee star Jonathan Groff was there, a girl next to me nearly died. Harvey was saying goodnight and I asked if I could have my picture taken with him and the book since he had made it come alive along with preserving gay history. “Sure with the book!” We hugged and the guy I gave my camera to couldn’t figure out how it works. Harvey growled, “Heterosexuals! They can’t even figure out how to work a camera.” We all laughed and that is the moment captured in this wonderful moment. I am still on cloud nine.
The ladies who lunch
GO SEE THE PLAY – it has a limited run and is closing June 29. Tickets sometimes available 50% off at TKTS nightly.
CASA web site: http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/2013-2014-season/casa-valentina/
New York Times review: http://online.wsj.com/articles/like-earlier-hot-spots-williamsburg-adds-gloss-1402620838
Cast signed poster