Alexandra Billings's Miraculous Broadway Debut in The Nap
And it's all thanks to her Transparent costar, Judith Light.
"Anything that happens to me I consider a miracle," Alexandra Billings says.
Marrying her high school sweetheart? Miracle. Landing the role of Davina on Amazon's Transparent? Miracle. Making her Broadway debut in Richard Bean's The Nap for Manhattan Theatre Club? You guessed it.
Billings, one of the first openly trans women to play a trans character on television, has been living with AIDS for decades. Upon her diagnosis, her doctor told her she might as well max out her credit cards, because she wouldn't live long enough to have to pay the bill.
"I never in my life thought this would be possible," Billings says following a recent matinee of The Nap at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. "I'll never have a first time on Broadway again, so every single day is a gift."
The Nap is a comedy set in the world of professional snooker (the British equivalent of pool). Billings plays the transgender character Waxy Bush, a one-handed gangster, who declares that the protagonist, Dylan Spokes (played by Ben Schnetzer), must throw a round in the upcoming snooker world championship in order to pay off some accumulated debt. The sheer mention of her character's name gets laughs, as does her penchant for malapropisms. It's not until the bang of a first-act finale when you realize that Waxy means business.
"First of all," Billings says when asked what drew her to the production, "it's hilarious. It's an absolute joy to come to work every day. There isn't an ego in the bunch. Everyone is interested in telling the story, and it's artistically mind-blowing. It's like taking a master class in acting. The second thing I loved was that it has a transgender character and the focus is on who she is in the story, not her transition. I can't remember the last time I saw a trans character where the storyline didn't at least have, within it, a focus on transitioning."
She wasn't looking for a theater project when Waxy came into her life. It's all thanks to "one of the great divine messengers of our business," her Transparent costar Judith Light. "Judith is very good friends with everyone at MTC and they were talking about this play, saying they didn't know where they were going to find a 50-plus-year-old transgender actress who can do this kind of comedy. And Judith goes, 'I know somebody.' She's the reason it happened."
The Nap comes at a boon time for trans actors on Broadway. Earlier this season, Peppermint became the first openly transgender actor to originate a principal role on Broadway, in Head Over Heels. Jess Barbagallo, a trans actor and playwright, appears in the ensemble of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And two genderqueer actors, Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe, recently completed runs in Straight White Men.
"If you put it in context, it's sort of outrageous and it's about time," Billings says. "But the fact of it is pretty extraordinary. Now what we have to do is make sure that this is about momentum and not just a fluke." Theater is notoriously behind the times, though. And while there's progress in Hollywood, thanks to shows like Transparent and Pose, "I don't think that's true in theater, in general," she adds. "New plays have to start being written, and we have to start casting trans people in cis roles and not making a big deal out of it."
Billings's understudy in The Nap, the trans actress Bianca Leigh, is an excellent case in point. Leigh also understudies the cisgender character played by Tony nominee Johanna Day. "If Johanna ever misses a day, Bianca and I will be the first two trans people going on in a play where one is playing a trans character, and the other is playing a cis character. That's historic."
Looking ahead in that vein, Billings says that her dream role is in a classic Broadway musical. "I would like to be the first trans actor to play Mame," she says. "It would make me really happy. She's such a fun, vivacious character, and I think she's perfectly suited to our community. It's the perfect time."
Until then, there's The Nap and the Broadway debut she never expected. "It's not that I stopped dreaming, but I began to look at my life in a whole different way. So this, for me, is a miracle."