Life story

The all-trans cast tells the compelling life story of Civil War veteran Albert Cashier

I’ve largely avoided the theater during the pandemic, but made an exception to see “The Civility of Albert Cashier” at Manhattan’s Players Theater in Greenwich Village on May 29. My friend Joe Stevens was on stage throughout, backing many songs. with his guitar.

“Civility” is the first Off-Broadway show with an all-transgender cast, which makes this stage play historic in itself; but its value goes far beyond its historical significance: it’s a delightful musical with a marvelous score carried away with aplomb by a diverse cast that included African-American and Asian-American members.

“Civility” is based on the true story of someone who might have been called a “transient woman” in the 19th century, but who today would most likely identify as a “trans man.” Born in Ireland in 1843, Jennie Irene Hodgers was assigned female and gender female at birth, emigrating from Clogherhead in County Louth to Belvidere, Illinois. Drafted into the 95th Illinois Infantry in 1862 as Albert DJ Cashier, he was honorably discharged in 1865 – one of at least 250 assigned female at birth who served in the Civil War, according to historians .

Cashier did not have access to the hormonal and surgical procedures that contemporary trans people undergo, and his anatomical sex was discovered when he was taken to Watertown State Hospital for the Insane in 1914. However, when the veterans’ pension board investigated Cashier for fraud, his 95th comrades came forward to attest to his bravery in battle – and the board decided in 1915 that he should continue to receive his war pension for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately, he died nine months later.

Cashier’s life story is told compellingly in this musical, which features music by Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden and a book by Jay Paul. Stevens, Keaton and Wooden provide the lyrics and Nicole D’Angelo leads the musical direction. Few facts are known about the historical figure, so Stevens, Keaton, and Wooden fill Albert Cashier’s life with various incidents, sparking a romance between Albert and the sadly named Jeffery N. Davis – who makes much fun of his fellow soldiers from The union. for its name, making the already very strange play even stranger with its allusions to Shakespearian genre confusion a la “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Twelfth Night”.

Unlike so many Broadway musicals today, ‘Albert’ has sometimes soulful music: ‘Bullet in a Gun’ and ‘I’m Alive’ help create a lively character and ‘Brothers in Arms’ is a catchy call. in martial combat. action in favor of the cause of the Union. “What are you going to fight for?” makes the fight more personal for Albert, while “Perfect Home” is a plea by Jeffery to form an unconventional marriage which Albert rejects because it doesn’t fit his internal sense of gender identity.

The young queer cast acquitted themselves well with skillful acting and singing, with the sole exception of “Chicago” as the high notes of that song proved to be taxing for the actor singing the role of John Curtis. Still, Salem Corwin couldn’t be blamed for his insinuating play. The two stars were Achilles Mulkey as young Albert and Kristyn Michele as the aging veteran: Mulkey captured the courage of young Albert and vibrantly elevated the songs he sang; and Michele delivered the production’s most nuanced and mature performance, shaping the former Albert’s vocal lines with a soulful delivery. Lily Ali-Oshatz, Nikomeh Anderson, Stevie Jae Davis, Fin Gagnon, DeShawn Aaron Jenkins, Dee Luu, Mark Mendes Muñoz, Imani Russell, Joshua Simpson, Parker Wallace, Dexter Warren and Jace n’ Ziev complete a wonderful cast.

In my opinion, this musical compares favorably to most of the Metropolitan Opera’s recent efforts to make opera more “relevant” by featuring new works such as “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” – which premiered for the first time at the Opera Theater in St. Louis in 2019 before joining the Met in September 2021. Met general manager Peter Gelb has acknowledged that his decision to open the 2021-22 season with the new opera by Terence Blanchard had been informed by the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the memoir of Charles M. Blow, Blanchard’s opera attempts to tell the New York Times columnist’s truly gripping story, but with music that fails.

Unlike Blanchard’s rather dull Sprechgesang — which rarely rises to the level of true lyricism — ‘Civility’ offers a delightful and often moving musical and dramatic experience. I would take the authentic lyrical inspiration from “Brothers in Arms” and “I’m Alive” any day. I only wish that small transgender community efforts such as “Civility” had even a fraction of the Met’s budget so they could generously compensate their cast and crew and afford promotional efforts that could attract a wider audience.

That run is over, but perhaps “Civility” will get a much-needed revival here at some point.


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