Especially for the less LGBTQ-literate audience member, hope that you too will be treated to Joe Stevens doing the usual silence-your-cellphones-unwrap-your-candy opener. It’s not only because his casual aside that he is a Trans man reminds you just how absurd all this recent headline grabbing bathroom fever is. It’s because the music (19 songs) that he co-created with Keaton Wooden, who is also the Director of The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier, is so exceptional and compelling, you want to KNOW the composer/s and glimpse a person behind its genius.
The fiddle-rich catchy score immediately sets an olden-timey feel, with lyrics that plunge you into the amazing real-world story of Albert Cashier and the intrinsic high drama of his Trans identity (Lyrics: Joe Stevens; Keaton Wooden and Jay Paul Deratany). There is a girl-person in his past, a ghost, who haunts young Albert (Dani Shay) and locks him apart from others.
Permoveo Productions and Pride Films and Plays Tells Historic Tale
From the start, this script (Book by Jay Paul Deratany) places young Albert on stage with his older person (Katherine Condit), evoking the story also as a dreamscape of an old Civil War soldier moving in and out of dementia. Older Cashier lives in the time of Woodrow Wilson, but his mind retreats to memories of fighting on the Union side during the Civil War. It was a time when Cashier’s Trans-born troubles could fade as he found purpose as a human bullet fighting the good fight. More, he found camaraderie, acceptance and true friendship with his fellow soldiers.
With graphic scenes of battle as the backdrop (Projections Design: G. “Max” Maxin IV), ample harmony powered by many golden chords, and choreography that seems to take pains to avoid suggesting any one of these gangly boy soldiers could ever don tights (Choreography: Derek Van Barham), this soldier ensemble (Billy Rude, Cameron Armstrong, Chuck Quinn IV, Jordan Dell Harris, Jonathan Stombres, Roy Samra, Josiah Robinson and Gabriel Fries as their commander) takes the story also into the oft-told tale of the senselessness of war. We also get side commentary on racism that flirts with taking over entirely whenever charismatic Cameron Armstrong is allowed to show off his considerable vocal talent.
Old Albert is like any old soldier looking back to see how unprepared their callow self was for war and how elusive civilization is on the battlefield. Katherine Condit gives this role of Old Albert great gravitas, and her outsized performance works like a super-magnet to keep us enthralled with this incredible story. Another stand-out performance came from Billy Rude who often infuses his Jeffrey character with the gosh-golly charms of a Jimmy Stewart.
Alas, for this writer—these great talents, the musical genius at work, obvious singing talents, and this amazing real-world story made newly relevant by Trump’s tweets and follow on re: banning Trans soldiers— seems to be stifled a tad in a script begging for some scissoring down to size. With time too one would hope that the intriguing choreography that makes awkward boy movements so real will get the re-think polish its promise merits.
Don’t let these caveats stop you from going. This play is of Trans history and perhaps is also Trans history in its own right.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.