Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women

Paul Lucas’ work makes its US premiere at American Repertory Theater.

The cast of Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women, directed by Jo Bonney, at the American Repertory Theater.
The cast of Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women, directed by Jo Bonney, at the American Repertory Theater.
(© Gretjen Helene Photography)

Several years ago, playwright Paul Lucas embarked on a new project that would, he hoped, help him better understand why it seemed that the gay community was not as accepting of the transgender community as one would think. He didn't necessarily have a play in mind as his endgame when he began the journey that would lead him to interview over 75 trans people in six different countries.

Trans Scripts is the result of these interviews. What appear in the play, now in a tight and affecting U.S. premiere directed by Jo Bonney, are the actual words of the people he interviewed. After having premiered in 2015 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (where it won the esteemed Fringe First Award), Trans Scripts landed at American Repertory Theater's Oberon in 2016 for a one-night-only reading. Tickets sold out within three hours of the announcement.

The stories that make up Trans Scripts unfold in a logical order, from early childhood inklings of being different through adulthood matters, like suicide, sex, and surgery. The stories of the seven women featured in the play vary greatly, underscoring the importance of the message that there is no one singular transgender experience.

Trans Scripts is much more than a distillation of interviews: It is an airtight example of humanity woven into a compelling 90 minutes of storytelling that runs the gamut of emotions. To call this a documentary play would be accurate, but it would also be selling it short. Documentaries can sometimes feel more like work than entertainment. But so crystalline are the narratives and so seamlessly are they woven together that Trans Scripts never feels like work.

Lucas' admirable script and Bonney's effortless direction set a fascinating narrative that is fleshed out by a remarkable group of trans and cisgender actors. Irresistibly palpable is the profound camaraderie that exists among them, enhancing even further the great humor, sadness, and inspiration that alternates throughout the play.

There's a down-to-earth Australian woman (played by an affecting Marlo Bernier) who just wants to blend in; a stunning beauty queen (a very funny Matthew Hancock) with a surprising amount of support; a former Staten Island mechanic (Eden Lane) with an easy glamour; a formidable ex-dominatrix played by the excellent Bianca Leigh; an Afro-Latina runaway turned activist (M.J. Rodriguez); an achingly moving Rebecca Root as a strong but weathered woman who for years suffered abuse at the hand of her father; and Violet, a warm doctor in her 60s (Jack Wetherall), who proves that its never too late to be who you always should have been.

The performances are natural and grounded. Each actor reacts to the others' stories as if it's the first time they're being heard, and there were a few spontaneous moments of ad-libbing that highlight the gifts and rapport of this exceptional cast.

Despite the increase in visibility over the last several years, the transgender community is still largely marginalized, though Trans Scripts touches on that issue only briefly. The struggles of these women are laid bare, but never are they allowed to wallow. Lucas chooses instead to celebrate the strength and resilience of these women who are fortunate enough to have done what so many have struggled to do: to be themselves. Trans women just might be, as one of the characters suggests, the embodiment of the American dream.

By the play's end, it is the humanity beaming from the stage that you're most likely to wrap up and take home with you with. The importance of Trans Scripts right now should not be underestimated. A great many people across the country stand to benefit from spending time in the company of these magnificent warriors.