It’s old news that theatre is undergoing a transformation this year due to the pandemic. At the same time, it might be the most important moment for the rawness and immediacy the institution offers. This is something that is perfectly captured in Keegan Theatre’s new show, “Trans Am,” a world-premiere musical and one-woman rock performance. The woman is Lisa Stephen Friday, and the show is a gorgeous memoir mashup that explores Friday’s musical awakening, transition, and the process of becoming herself.
Written and performed by Friday, the show chronicles the performer’s life and career to date. Friday’s telling of her own life is intimate, hilarious, sexy, sometimes sad, but always incredibly engaging. She ably translates her skill as a musician into finding the beats of her own experience, often punctuating stories with the perfect line. Describing the first time she dressed in women’s clothes as a child, she says “I looked in the mirror, and I liked what I saw.”
…a gorgeous memoir mashup that explores Friday’s musical awakening, transition, and the process of becoming herself.
“Trans Am” is as much showing as telling, as Friday both narrates and performs her personal history, acting out scenes and singing her own songs. A dynamic performer, Friday commands the stage, often climbing atop equipment during a song, in true rock fashion. The show’s music is drawn from her own punk rock band, Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday. The ear-wormy songs are sometimes interspersed with the script, and sometimes presented as standalone, dramatic interludes, separating chapters of her life.
The set (courtesy of Matthew J. Keenan) with a background of angled TVs, is all MTV and fitting, as Friday cites the network as a major influence in her musical and personal awakening. It introduced her to rock music as a child, and through that, the potential of queer identities. Video graphics, designed by Jeremy Bennett, are used in just the right amount to complement Friday’s storytelling. They help set the scene when, for example, she describes her move as a young adult to the New York City of the early 1990s, which she describes as a still-gritty, deeply exciting city.
It’s a place of possibility for Friday, and allows her to explore her music, find a community, and gradually decide to transition. This period of her life makes way for some great scenes, including her introduction to Jayne County, a friend and mentor, who Friday describes as “Stevie Nicks’ punk rock sister.” Friday’s affectionate impersonation of her, combined with the clean editing of the show’s direction, courtesy of director Fred Berman (who was also the drummer in Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday), allows her to recreate County’s distinct persona.
“Not only did they see me and hear me, they put me on a stage and elevated me,” Friday says of the many people that helped her and her band on their way to success.
Friday is a generous performer that ably communicates the highs and lows of her journey. And, as in any rock-n-roll memoir, there are some lows. In perhaps the most impressive scene of the show, a burned out Friday lip syncs with a past recording of herself, embodying the feelings of detachment and alienation she experienced during this turbulent time. A guitar is smashed. The band breaks up. This sadness is tempered by a softer penultimate act that finds her meeting and falling in love with her wife, and starting a new, though not final, chapter of her life.
“You want to see my life, the choices I was given, the choices I survived,” Friday challenges her listeners, in one of the show’s songs, a line that could also sum up the story of “Trans Am” itself. Yet, the audience is left with the sense of a story not just about survival, but thriving in the face of uncertainty. Being live-streamed instead of recorded serves the show well. It’s live, and alive, a reminder of the immediacy and connection that theatre, music, and artists like Friday, can provide.
Running time: about 1 1/2 hours.
Advisory: If this were a film, it would be rated PG-13.
“Trans Am” will run through Nov. 29, streaming live from the Keegan main stage. For tickets and more information, click here.