Interview: Director Mickey Lund Discusses His New Show “Casa Valentina” at Colonial Players of Annapolis

Mickey Lund is a driving force in the Annapolis theater scene. He was one of the founders of Dignity Players, which put on productions exploring themes of social justice and equality, such as Dustin Lance Black’s courtroom drama 8, as well as hilarious send-ups like The 39 Steps. He works frequently with Colonial Players and other theaters in the area. He generously spoke with DCMTA about his upcoming show at Colonial Players, Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.

Charles Green: What made you interested in directing Casa Valentina?

Mickey Lund. Photo by Dave Colburn.

Mickey Lund. Photo by Dave Colburn.

Mickey Lund: Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein is a truly engrossing portrait of a much-marginalized group of men, and although it’s set in 1962, it still speaks volumes to a modern audience about what it’s like to be an outsider and to have to hide your personage. It’s because the play still has resonance in today’s much more accepting society, and because I have personal experience in hiding the person I am within a seemingly open and accepting community, that I’m so completely drawn to the play’s message and, more importantly, its characters. The play has so much to say about life in 1962, but it still has a LOT to say about life in 2017 – and not just in relation to men who enjoy wearing women’s clothes, but about all people in general who feel like outsiders. We are not so removed from 1962 that groups of people don’t still feel completely marginalized and ostracized – just follow the news as of late and you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to.

Was there anything that you, the cast, or the crew found tricky?

It was all tricky to be honest. It’s a MUCH bigger show than it seems when you read the script. There’s so much to explore and so much to learn. I told the actors that if you try to figure everything out, you’ll drive yourself nuts. So just focus on the characters in this time and place. We also found that dealing with the high heels, the wigs, the makeup, and the costumes, as well as all the props and such, was really tricky. In most shows, you just naturally pick it all up, but with this show, everything was a process – and that process is still ongoing even after we open.

Did you and the cast and crew do anything to prepare?

We met with a dramaturg, of course, to discuss the era and the politics of gender identity. We spent hours just learning how to walk in high heels, how to present yourself as a woman of the day, how to sit and stand and talk even. We spent many rehearsals going over how to put make-up on and care for your skin and your hair. As I told the cast – there are layers to this show from the directing standpoint – 1) general blocking and movement; 2) character work; 3) feminine etiquette. It was a lengthy process, but well worth it in the long run.

Colonial Players is the first community theater to perform Casa Valentina, and the first time it’s been done in the round. Are there any differences between a stage in the round and a “traditional” stage? Were there any challenges?

In this particular case, there are multiple scenes where actors put on makeup and dress on stage. This is a real challenge in the round to ensure that everyone gets to see the transformations. Additionally, the script calls for the actors to be on stage throughout so that the audience can witness them in their safe environment. To do this, we had to remove walls and such so that again, the entire audience gets the full effect.

Jason Vellon and Laura Gayvert in Casa Valentina. Photo by Dave Colburn.

Jason Vellon and Laura Gayvert in Casa Valentina. Photo by Dave Colburn.

Was there anything that surprised you while working on the play?

The number of layers there are to these characters and to the story itself. Every time you think you have it figured out, why someone is doing what they’re doing or why these guys want to dress in women’s clothing, you are faced with more questions and more discussion. To this day, two weeks from opening, we still don’t know in full what everything is about – and that’s really exciting and really invigorating.

Did you learn anything about yourself, or the cast and crew?

I want to share a letter a cast member wrote to Harvey Fierstein here. This is part of what he wrote – his name is Peter Wilkes and he’s playing the part of Terry:

“My own dad was a transvestite. A transvestite entertainer actually, back in the 1930s as attested by photographs discovered, in the curious days of childhood, hidden in the attic. But, when my childish mind unconsciously coupled this discovery with other undealt-with issues, I turned away from my dad for many, many, many years and, sadly, he died without either one of us able to reconcile this rift.

Thus I feel incredibly fortunate and deeply moved by being able to, at last, honor my dad and his honest authenticity through Terry. While it may not be the biggest role in the play, for me it’s truly the role of my lifetime, and I know dad will be watching every performance with a newfound joy in his soul which I, too, will share. For an old guy like me to finally find a way to heal a wound that was destined to fester forever is the most wonderful—and unexpected—gift I have ever received, and I just wanted to thank you personally for providing the vehicle to do just that. ‘Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person,’ and that is exactly what you have done for me.”

For me personally – I have a much increased appreciated for women and for what women had to and still have to deal with not only in terms of dressing and make-up and social expectations, but in terms of how they are viewed and treated in society. It may seem odd that a show about men cross-dressing provided that for me – but I think the part of Rita and what she has to deal with in this show really hit home for me. It’s a wonderful thing!

What do you hope audiences will take away after seeing Casa Valentina?

Kevin Wallace and Jason Vellon in Casa Valentina. Photo by Dave Colburn.

Kevin Wallace and Jason Vellon in Casa Valentina. Photo by Dave Colburn.

This is what I put into my director’s notes which really says what this play is about and what I want audiences to take:

On the surface, Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina is a thoughtful exploration of social taboos that probe the boundaries of sexual identity, but looking deeper, I believe that, just like the works and words of Oscar Wilde whom Fierstein quotes throughout the play, the play has an inherent power to undercut not only social pretentions but to break down the self-defeating resistance we all have to the freedom to truly be one’s self – a resistance that stems from societal norms and environmental circumstances which override personal needs and political stances. And in fighting internally against our own needs to be our true selves, we lose the ability to stand together despite our differences for common causes in any transformative way.

It is this transformation that is at the essence of all of Fierstein’s work, but no more obvious than here in Casa Valentina where we are offered a glimpse into a world hidden by closed doors – a world where an eclectic group of simple men are looking for a place there they feel they can belong. Walls have been removed, defined boundaries between rooms have been blurred, and tasks normally done in private have been made public, all with the intention of opening closed doors and providing you a unique opportunity to sit beside these simple men and bear witness to their amazing transformations–both externally with the clothes they wear and internally as they struggle to come to terms with who they are and what they want. In so doing, perhaps you too can find the transformative power we all have deep within to truly be the people we want to be.

Who inspires you?

So many people – too many to count – but I have to say that on a daily basis I’m inspired by two people in particular – my husband for one who challenges me every day to think outside the box and to constantly re-evaluate the way I think about politics, news, and just daily life issues. He’s always upbeat, always seeing the positive in people – and that’s truly inspiring. And then a dear friend of mine, the costume designer on this show, inspires me. She’s been through hell and back these past four years – yet she’s a shining light, always with a smile on her face, a positive word to say to everyone, and a go-getter. I don’t know how she manages to get out of bed every day, but the fact that she does and does it with such grace and dignity is inspirational in every way.

What’s your dream project?

I’ve been so fortunate to run my own theatre company for ten years and direct so many of the shows I’ve always wanted to work on. If I had to pick one that I’m dying to do though, it would probably be Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim. I find it so inspiring in every way, and I get something new from it every time I listen to it or see it. It’s truly a beautiful piece of theatre. And I guess another would Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg – it’s still so timely in every way and, as a gay man myself, it pains me that so many gay athletes need to stay in the closet due to their teammates’ and sports associations’ attitudes toward sexuality.

Casa Valentina plays from May 25 through June 17 at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-268-7373, or go online.

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