Stage

LVLT balances drag comedy and complicated emotions in ‘Casa Valentina’

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House party: LVLT makes Casa Valentina poignant and fun.
Molly O'Donnell

Four stars

Casa Valentina Through November 8; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $21-$24. Las Vegas Little Theatre, 702-362-7996.

“I’m so pretty, I should be set to music,” a man in a house dress and bejeweled turban says to a guy snapping his photo. While the line gets a laugh from the crowd, Bessie’s contentedness becomes emblematic of everything so many real people lack. Casa Valentina offers serious belly laughs, or as the play’s muse Oscar Wilde might have inspired Picasso to say, lies that tell the truth. Set in the ’60s at a resort for cross-dressers, the Las Vegas Little Theatre production adeptly treats the seemingly light subject matter of men trading tips on lipstick, while revealing the history of a complicated political movement.

A versatile set showing four rooms at once plays host to the drama of a getaway for a group of close friends and a few outsiders, including closeted cross-dresser Miranda (Michael Blair), Valentina’s—or George’s (Glenn Heath)—accepting wife Rita (Gillen Brey), and trans political leader Charlotte (Rob Kastil). Characters like Bessie (Brian Scott) humorously demonstrate the fun of shedding men’s clothes, described as the Mexican food of fashion: eight ingredients served 75 different ways. The start of the play is a series of such well-timed and well-delivered barbs. At times, though, the silliness of the first act can feel overdone, dragging out the drag.

Fortunately this is the show’s lone flaw. The conversation soon turns serious, making it clear there’s more at stake than learning how to walk in heels. Charlotte has come with a purpose: to suggest they all go on record with the government in an effort to normalize cross-dressing. Some, like the Judge (Troy Tinker), are afraid of the exposure; others like Terry (E. Wayne Worley) are reticent to throw the gay community under the bus.

What shakes out is that there’s no unity in the “world of self-made women” just yet. When things heat up, people are physically and emotionally wounded, and not just those leading a double life. Gillen Brey deserves special mention for effectively playing a “GG” (genuine girl) caught between loyalty to her husband and the profound confusion of being married to someone who’s becoming someone else. It seems even in a realm where men wear dresses, women still don’t wear the pants.

This is, in part, why the show is so thought-provoking. It captures a moment in a movement, showing us the interior of an evolution, from the cross-dressing world eager to be accepted but not necessarily to accept, to the rainbow spectrum of queerness we know today. So while the laughs are big in this little production, the story it tells proves that dress up is so much more serious than play.

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