The history of any nation of consequence is military—as such are identities forged by memoirs of might. But is the identity of a person also what they did and how or is it merely molecular, topological, geographic? “The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier,” written by Jay Paul Deratany and co-composed by Keaton Wooden and Joe Stevens, delves into these questions in a musical of the life of one Albert D.J. Cashier, née Jennie Irene Hodgers.
Born in Ireland, Cashier enlisted in Company G of the 95th Illinois Infantry of the Union Army in 1862 at the age of nineteen, where he fought in forty battles during the Civil War. Following the war, he continued to live as a man for nearly fifty years before his secret was discovered.
Deratany’s play is a thoroughly American story, not only because it canonizes an American soldier, an immigrant and an outsider but also because it adheres to narratives dear to the American spirit—on war, on law and on a society founded not on the integrity of its blood but the collectivity of its traumas and, especially, the power of the individual to transcend the limits of the common imagination and live on his or her own terms.
Portrayed by Dani Shay (Young Albert) and Katherine L. Condit (Old Albert), Cashier is brash and vulnerable, teased for being small as a bugle boy by fellow recruits, frequently on the verge of either demise or discovery but steadfast in his pursuit of self-determination. In no other context is this more clear than the military, where the performance of masculinity is rewarded by glory and punishable by death. In this endeavor, Cashier is joined by excellent friends—naïve, sweet Jeffrey (Billy Rude) and surgeon Walter (Cameron Armstrong).
Under Wooden’s direction, Cashier’s biography is presented with satisfying minimalism—bodies, voices and a few props on a nearly bare stage, supplemented by sepia-tinted projections that add a patina to the war scenes, all flawlessly deployed. Shay’s voice is disorientingly contemporary and utterly compelling, the strength that belies a fragile physicality.
“The CiviliTy” can be heavy handed—but these times demand forceful statements. (Irene Hsiao)
Permoveo Productions and Pride Films & Plays at Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont, albertcashierthemusical.com, $40. Through October 15.