Cashiered is an exciting, bold and pithy piece of new writing from Hannah Greenstreet. Its set during the American civil war and examines the story of transgender soldier Albert J.D. Cashier. The writing effectively relates an easily identifiable narrative – of the right to your gender identity in conflict with the powers that be – a story that resonates today. Bold staging choices make this piece shine with anxiety and suspense. The play begins with a curtain separating the actors and audience, who are only allowed to see the shadows of Albert’s past follow him into his hospital bed. The curtain, once dramatically removed to reveal Albert, weak and powerless, constantly comes back into play to represent the division of his character with society. We constantly get small insights into Albert’s world, understanding his pain at being forced to defend the fact he is the man – and not the woman – he claims to be, only to then get shut out and left as an outsider by the pulling across of the curtain. This dramaturgical strategy, which metaphorically paints the divide between society and transgender people at that time, keeps the audience engaged throughout.
This dark and threatening beginning foreshadows the tragic moroseness of the rest of the play, throughout which we will constantly be reminded of the injustice of Albert’s treatment and condemnation. Combining careful research with vivid insight, Greenstreet’s script definitely has potential in the dialogue and portrayal of characters. Franni Ball’s rendering of Nurse Danby steals the show. She encapsulates the struggle of the generous and caring members of society who try to be understanding towards the fate of transgender people, despite being constantly faced by backlash from those around her. Throughout the play, she stays strong in the face of Sister Baterman, Nurse (Lara Marks), who epitomizes the unempathetic state of mind of the majority towards trans identities. Marks’ ability to switch smoothly between this role and that of army-bully Fred Carter is proof of her skill as an actress, and her presence greatly increases the sharpness and brutality of the play. Luke Martin was convincing in his range of characters, standing head above the others to embody the powerful positions of the Investigator and Sergeant.
The interview scenes when he depicts Reporter Ralph illustrate the role of the media in public humiliation, and how fraught with untruth the public understanding of these issues really was. Thea Keller was faced with an insurmountably difficult role, and the temporal transition experienced in the writing occasionally leaves his characterization feeling a little stilted. To his credit, he manages very effectively to portray the sheer breadth of emotional response experienced by Cashier. The American accents throughout sometimes felt a bit forced, and often I thought the dialogue and manor of speech were not very representative of that during the American civil war. Despite this, the most interesting relationship was that of Albert and Robert (played by Laurence Bialy).
The awkward but sweet conversations between the characters exemplify the confusion experienced by both at the discovery of undemonstrated feelings. The audience is kept in suspense as to whether or not there are any romantic feelings between them. Overall, this was an effective portrayal, evoking the very difficult questions of gender identities. The plot avoided unnecessary twists, and hit home a powerful message with great pathos. I felt outraged at the struggle Albert had to endure in being open about his gender identity, and disgust at society’s treatment of him. Both emotions are what the play was trying to get out of the audience, so in that regard it was definitely a success. Although lacking in some domains, the piece has a great deal of potential and is worth a watch.