4 out of 4 stars
Permoveo Productions, in association with Pride Films & Plays, presents the world premiere production of The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier. This musical production follows a Civil War veteran as he struggles with early onset dementia and a life-long secret that is brought to light. Playwright Jay Paul Deratany illustrates a “truly archetypal American story” through a dynamic musical exploration of identity. The piece is based on the true story of Albert Cashier, a Civil War solider, who was born Jennifer Hodgers.
As the saying goes, when words fail, music speaks. The decision of live musical accompaniment transcends the lyrics from dialogue support and into empathetic power, which is a highlight of this production’s strength. The broad scope of Albert’s life is examined through the discoveries and personal growth by comparative narratives set in 1862 and 1915. The talented Jon Schneidman directs the musical composition wonderfully and the work soars through internal and external drama impeccably. Encompassing an entire person’s life into one play is a feat and the layers within this work together and creates such a provoking depth. The various perspectives on morality and truth lends to not only the time period, but concepts that are timeless. What does it mean to be civil? What is truth? What will you fight for? At a time that is so critical for today’s modern world, Deratany’s work speaks to the gross discrimination and blatant disregard for human rights on a global scale, particularly those which the LGBT community still face.
Co-composed and directed by Keaton Wooden along with Joe Stevens (co-composer), the entire production fit seamlessly together. The piece holds great weight of potential to continue for years to come. In a clean use of space, scrim projection and lighting all work simultaneously together on wooden planked thrust stage to send the audience back in time. The music flowed together into a well-structured story arch with songs such as, “Ghost Boy”, “What Will You Fight For?”, and “Brothers in Arms”. Associate Artistic Director of Pride Films and Plays, Derek Van Barham, created the choreography in “Brothers in Arms”. Van Barham's vision is a dynamic range of dance sequences contained such a contagious vigor. It absolutely showcases the heart of this piece. The passion of the work would be nothing without a strong performance for our main character, Albert Cashier. Albert's character is split between his younger and older self in a dual narrative. The tenacious Dani Shay, a non-binary trans singer/songwriter, actor, and activist with former appearances on the Glee Project and America’s Got Talent, portrays newly enlisted Young Albert. Shay possesses a power and vibrato that pierces the soul that connects with the audience on a truly intimate level. Shay wonderfully compliments Katherine Condit’s endearing depiction of Old Albert in voice and spirit. Their paired performance of a single character at two points in time can be tricky, but together they give a great service to the real Albert’s journey. A resonating performance of someone fighting for their own rights about who they are, as well as the strength and courage it takes to stand up for what they believe in.
The research and detail of this based on real events story contains a multitude of thematic layers. One particularly enjoyable moment was Cameron Armstrong’s soulful performance of “Following the Sound”. Armstrong plays Walter, a free black surgeon in the same regiment as Young Albert. Walter teaches Albert about the importance of not making assumptions, even if widely done practice in society. This open mindedness connects the two marginalized characters and illustrates a beautiful friendship, as well as a very important message of tolerance and understanding. Additionally, the theme of individual versus the collective can be seen throughout this piece. Billy Rude, plays Jeffery, wonderfully illustrates an individual from the collective who begins to question his own identity as the war progresses. Rude's brilliant enthusiastic portrayal of Jeffery gives another layer of perspective onto this challenge between identity and the societal norms of the 1800s. Visually, the lighting designed by musa “hex” bouderdaben reflects this concept as well. The use of spotlight is frequent throughout the work to highlight solos and contrast particular moments of internal reflection from the societal collective with full stage lights. The variation guides the audience’s eye well. A particular detail that struck out was the transition from Act 1 to Act 2 with the centered lighting movement into a full white lit stage. Another detail that was particularly enjoyable and is a great example of creating environment without props or scenery is the dappled golden light around the edge of a spotlight. This dappled effect is associated with leaves and is utilized during the battle scenes, since the Civil War surpassed battle fields and into the wilderness of America’s countryside.
The talent within this piece is just bursting at the seams! From onstage to backstage, the passion for this story is evident throughout the hours spent watching from the seats. Albert’s life is brought back to life and pulls at one’s heartstrings. His story is so potent and important for our time as we continue to fight for basic human rights throughout our country and the world. A vital hidden history of a lost voice rising up.
The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier is now playing at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, now through October 15th. Tickets are available for purchase at http://www.stage773.com. For more information about the musical, please visit: www.albertcashierthemusical.com
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!