"Trans Scripts: Part I, The Women": Transcendent?

The Cast of "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women" at ART
(photo: Gretjen Helene Photography)

There's an old saying about the need not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable. One was reminded of this when confronted (if that's the correct term) with the play Trans Scripts Part I: The Women, now at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge. The work, taken verbatim from interviews with transgender women all over the world by Paul Lucas (a theatrical producer with his first full-length play), has as its purpose emphasizing what we share in common, not the differences between us, thus lowering our level of discomfort with the subject. After encounters with more than seventy-five transgender people in six countries over five years, Lucas transcribes the narratives from seven of these stories, now transposed into dramatic monologues and transported to their US premiere at ART after their favorable reception at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Directed here by Jo Bonney (who directed Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 at ART), they are performances of journeys that are completely transferable to the stage. Performances are also followed by moderated discussions with experts in this area.

The gender of the cast, (unidentified in the program as transgender or not), is not immediately apparent. They include Josephine (Marlo Bernier), Zakia (Matthew Hancock), Sandra (Eden Lane), Tatiana (Bianca Leigh), Luna (M J Rodriguez), Eden (Rebecca Root) and Dr. Violet (Jack Wetherall). From the very beginning until its close some ninety minutes later, one is reminded of the scene from A Chorus Line when characters share their backstories, but here in considerably more depth. Consider just a few examples. Tatiana, a 45 year old actress: “There is no simple, universal narrative, no pithy, three-line explanation...but why should there be?”. Or Zakia, a 38-year-old social worker and beauty contest contestant: “You don't see other women walking down the street with their hoo-hahs hanging out to prove they're women”. Or Sandra, a 65-year-old former garage mechanic: “It's a human experience that one has by breaking through the door of gender, a quest to rebuild yourself in the way that you should have been built”. Or Violet, a 74-year-old gynecologist: “How long have I been going with my transition? Ten years? My mother still calls me Victor. The old bugger”. Later, Violet adds that those who dis her are at the same time recognizing and speaking directly to her, in which she finds validation. The stories aren't pity parties, but affirmations, in various ways, of how strong, powerful and responsive these various characters have become. While each has an individual tale to tell, there is a commonality to what they all have come to transmit and to share with the audience. And what they have to say is not transient, it perseveres, even if not always transparent. They are more translucent, in that they tell just enough to enlighten us and withhold just enough to make us more eager to learn. All seven performers are extraordinary (though one of them could speak a bit more slowly so as not to lose some dialogue). Under Bonney's superb direction, the creative team's contributions include perfectly chosen Costume Design by Daniel Tyler Mathews, minimalist Scenic Design by Myung Hee Cho, fine Lighting Design by Lap Chi Chu, effective Composition and Sound Design by John Gromada and essential Wig Design by Rachel Padula Shufelt.

Fine theater at its best often introduces us to worlds about which we are fairly ignorant, and for this, we should always be grateful. In the current milieu of political fear and anxiety, one could find some solace in experiencing, however briefly, the life stories of these incredibly resilient human beings who are more like us than they are unlike us. Their shared diversity speaks volumes, urging us to spread new understanding. One is likely to find that this work, with its unique view into a little-known community, is indeed transfixing, transforming, and, yes, transcendent.

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