This Saturday, I have the honor and privilege to join the cast for one performance of Pride Films and Plays’ magnificent production of Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina. It has been an awesome experience watching this cast and creative team construct this beautiful and rich and timely story. I had the benefit of having worked with the director and nearly the entire cast, particularly my overstudy Patrick Byrnes - who I’ve known for almost half my life! His performance as George/Valentina is so layered and vibrant and moving. I have quite the challenge to match his excellence, but I also have the support of this brilliant cast, stage manager, Assistant Director, and the incomparable multi-hyphenate Robert-Eric West, who have taken time out of their schedules to help me prepare for the role. It’s comforting to know they’ve all got my back.
A month or so ago, a friend posted on Facebook a Barbara Walters interview with Harvey Fierstein from 1985, shortly after La Cage Aux Folles premiered on Broadway, along with his hit Torch Song Trilogy. Barbara (or BaBa WaWa, as she was known in my house growing up) was asking Harvey questions that to my 2019 ears sounded absurd - “Is it possible for homosexuals to be monogamous?”, “How do you live publicly as a gay man? - and Harvey answered them as generously and kindly as possible. Being gay was just as natural as the air he breathed, and he explained that most gays he knew were monogamous, as normal as any straight couple. And this was shocking - SHOCKING - to Barbara, and presumably to the millions of Americans who were watching that telecast.
1985 was the year I was born. Gay men like Harvey paved the way for my generation to be able to live their most authentic lives. His truthfulness was a defiant and revolutionary act - delivered casually and proudly. He was one of the first gay men I ever recognized in movies. To my non-theater friends, I describe Harvey as the gay brother in Mrs. Doubtfire or the gay man in Independence Day (“I better call my mother”), with that distinctive gravelly voice - they immediately get the reference. I’m like, yeah, he writes plays too! One of the plays I saw with my parents and my then-boyfriend was a touring production of La Cage - it was amazing to share that experience of seeing a loving gay couple on stage with them.
So now to be doing one of his plays is a great honor, and although I only get one shot at it, I’m going to make the most of it. I’ve been running the lines for months, I’ve had my make-up test and costume fitting, I’ve run through the show on the stage in heels. George is one of the most morally complex characters I’ve ever played - his compartmentalization of Valentina, and the ensuing disintegration of that has been one of the most awesome challenges in my acting career. And that I get to do it seven days before I open Cabaret adds extra difficulty and pressure - which would be absolutely crushing if I didn’t have an squad of actors and artists, family and friends, who have been unquestionably there for me if I had questions, or if I needed to run lines, or if I just needed to relax and destress.
So I’m dedicating this one to Harvey, to Mom (always), and to everybody who has believed in me and helped me get to this point in my career - most especially, Casa’s brilliant director Michael Graham. I’m so lucky to have gotten cast with him in a 2012 production of The Cherry Orchard, and since then he’s entrusted me with roles in readings and plays, particularly the amazing experience that was Ten Dollar House. He’s always given me wide breadth to create my characters, offering thoughtful direction that nudged me towards subtle and truthful choices, without telling or showing me how to get there. I’m so grateful to have had his friendship and his artistic partnership. I hope to do justice for him, and Harvey, and Mom, on Saturday night.
CASA VALENTINA by Harvey Fierstein
at Pride Films and Plays - Broadway Stage
Understudy George/Valentina - Performing Sept 28!