When Chicago playwright Jay Paul Deratany stumbled over the story of Saunemin's Albert Cashier on a history web site three years ago, he had no way of knowing then how the timing of the moment would play out now.
But play out it has: Deratany's stage rendering of the life of the gender-defying Cashier opened this weekend in Chicago, fast on the heels of Donald Trump's reinstatement of the ban on transgender people in the military ... "in any capacity."
"The Civility of Albert Cashier" began its previews Thursday night at Stage 773, located at 1225 W. Belmont Ave., with the official press opening set for this coming Wednesday, when the reviews will be in.
Under Trump's watch, it probably isn't going too far to suggest that Cashier would have been, well, cashiered from the military: unwanted for heroic services rendered in uniform.
But in mid-19th century America, when identities were less subject to scrutiny — presidential or otherwise — the soldier born Jennie Hodgers served his country honorably, without question.
The Irish immigrant, who moved to Illinois and assumed a male identity before enlisting in the Union Army's 95th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War, fought bravely in some 40 battles.
Cashier maintained that identity through his post-war life as a laborer in Saunemin, until medical treatment for an injury revealed his true gender.
As was noted in The Pantagraph's coverage earlier this summer — itself published just three weeks before Trump's Twitter-delivered edict — Deratany's interest in dramatizing Cashier's story thee years ago was tied to then-current events.
His interest was further energized during the show's creative process via President Barack Obama's June 2016 lifting of the ban on openly transgendered people entering military service.
As Deratany's told us in his Pantagraph interview, no hammers over the head have been administered in dealing with Cashier's orientation, either as soldier or private citizen.
"We don't say that Jennie Hodgers was a lesbian, or that she wanted to live as a man, or that she did it simply because women were paid so low and lived a harsh life if they were single."
Instead, the focus — through both Deratany's dramatization and the song score composed by Americana musician Jay Stevens — is focused on the human rights issues that confronted Cashier at the end of his life.
Among them: His Army pension being challenged after his true gender was discovered, and his being placed in a state asylum and forced to dress as a woman.
The role is dual-cast: "America's Got Talent" finalist Dani Shay as the young Cashier, and Broadway actress Katherine Condit as the aged Cashier, reflecting on his life.
"I was fascinated when I was kid as why we didn't have these stories ... we only had stories about white men, and women were sort of pushed to the edge in history books," said Deratany.
But no longer.
In a new, post-ban interview published earlier this week in England's The Guardian, the author said, "the temperature Trump sets for our country, the mood he sets and the anger that he’s creating and the polarization that he’s building between people — it’s just terrible. But I hope this play bridges some gap."
Deratany also hopes it has a life beyond its Chicago premiere this week.
"My hope is that this goes further, to Broadway. This is the story of an individual who fought for his freedom, and his privacy, and it should resonate with everybody ... no matter whether you're a conservative accountant from Southern Illinois or an urban liberal."
Go see for yourself: Tickets for the McLean County Museum of History's previously announced Sept. 17 bus trip to see a 4 p.m. matinee of "The Civility of Albert Cashier" at Stage 773 have sold out, according to a museum spokesman. (In fact, that entire performance is sold out as a result, we're told.)
For those wanting to make the trip themselves, here are the times and dates: 7 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 4 p.m. Sun.,. through Oct. 15 (except for that sold-out Sept. 17 performance).
Tickets are are $40 by calling 773-327-5252.
Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at email@example.com
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