Tony nominee Reed Birney Reveals the Strong Women Who Inspire Casa Valentina's Charlotte
May 6th, 2014
by Josh Ferri
Acclaimed stage and screen star Reed Birney is nominated for his first Tony Award for his performance as the Charlotte, the snake in the grass over at the heavenly Casa Valentina. His electrifying performance has audiences buzzing as they exit the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre—everyone with their own take on whom he was channeling and when Charlotte was at her most wicked. Below, Birney shares with BroadwayBox the Hollywood legend, the pioneer and the long-lost book that helped him bring to life one of this season’s most fascinating characters.
“I think my first inspiration for Charlotte in Casa Valentina is Virginia Prince, the transgender activist on whom I am based. She only died in 2010 in her 90s. She was born as Arnold Lowman and lived the last fifty years of her life exclusively as a woman with not having had surgery (she was vehemently opposed to the surgery). There are quite a few written interviews with her, and she is as dogmatic and militant as she is in the play. But her passion was clear and articulate and her bravery, despite her being pretty universally loathed, was an inspiration to the entire cross-dressing community. The Sorority, the non-profit she founded in 1962 and which is the centerpiece of Casa Valentina, exists today.
The next inspiration would be Katharine Hepburn. Many people say I seem to be channeling Bette Davis—and I can see that— but I feel like Hepburn's WASP coolness and elegance are closer to who I think of as Charlotte. Harvey describes her as "The ultimate WASP. A buttoned down strict disciplinarian. Not your favorite aunt." That seemed to evoke Hepburn, the woman, to me. She was a pioneer in her way, as well. Outspoken and opinionated. I am a huge Hepburn fan, but I imagine it wouldn't have been any fun to have been on her bad side.
The third inspiration would be the book, Casa Susanna, on which our play is based. It is a book of snapshots discovered in a shoe box in a flea market in New York in the early 2000s, showing completely mundane pictures of these men dressed as women—playing cards, swimming or doing housework at this quiet Catskill resort in the early ‘60s. The pictures are haunting and evocative of another world, secret and privately joyous. The book and pictures are the most potent glimpse into the world we are trying to create.”
See Reed Birney’s Tony nominated performance as the venomous Charlotte in ‘Casa Valentina’ at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.