A staged reading of TRANS was held June 1 and 2 at the URI Feinstein Providence campus.
Steven Pennell, coordinator of the Urban Arts and Culture Program at URI, conceived TRANS as an oral history project focusing on the lives of transgendered individuals. Playwright Frank Toti, Jr., who also directed, focuses on six characters who are gathered with an interviewer (Pennell).
Over the course of an hour, we are introduced to Ari, Cameron, Eli, Kara, Josie and Tiffany, and learn about their struggles with their gender identities. The stories are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant and always fascinating. One is a cross-dresser in the Navy, one is a flight attendant and another becomes a drug addict. They have to face pressure from their parents, hostility from classmates and threats and harassment from society, in addition to overcoming their own fears and insecurities.
Perhaps the most haunting moment in the show is when Eli (Chris Laureano), who has transitioned from female to male, recalls being assaulted in a bathroom. Laureano expertly conveys the vulnerability and shock of being treated in such a horrific manner. Eli’s story takes on special meaning when you consider the widespread incidents of violence committed every day against those who don’t conform to a specific gender.
The group of performers, which includes Isaac J. Albanese, Samson Hampton, Sandra Lee, Michele Bourget Rogers, and Carol Schlink, were very skilled in showing the humanity and resilience of these characters.
A slightly different version of the play was presented in 2015. Toti explained after the performance that it remains a work in progress. A revised and fully staged production will be performed this November.
TRANS is a provocative and ultimately uplifting show that focuses on people attempting to become who they really are. It is a powerful experience that lets audiences inside a community that has been marginalized and misunderstood for far too long.