More than anything, Trans Am is a vehicle for [writer and performer Lisa Stephen Friday] to tell the stories of the moments of her life: of a little boy trying on a skirt, of being fascinated by MTV videos by Freddie Mercury and others, of leaving a Georgia family who didn’t understand for the wilder shores of New York City, of drag queens who accepted and encouraged her, of leading a queer band at the center of the rock and party scenes in New York City during the first decade of the century, of addiction and recovery, of love and loss. The need for transformation is a human universal: Friday’s stories are of one transformation after another that she undergoes, on her way to becoming today a woman who knows who she is.
She is a compelling storyteller, not least because she is a fine actor. She tells of living a life always on the cusp of change, participating in a character arc the shape and direction of which she doesn’t know at the time. There are nicely delineated differences in her portrayals of who she is at various points along that still incomplete arc, often matters of subtle shades of physicality and affect. Sometimes the contrasts are more stark. Her alcohol-fueled, guitar-smashing breakdown during a band performance is followed closely by a sweet, quiet recollection of falling in love.
There are flashes of humor as well. Friday does a physically and vocally hilarious impersonation of a mentor, the always insistently outrageous Jayne County. She tells of once having to choose between using available funds for “a sports car or tits.” No spoilers here about the outcome.
Beyond Friday’s vocal and acting abilities, and the dramatic force of her stories, Trans Am makes a very serious point about the necessity of societal support for transgender people. … Making trans lives vividly visible, telling stories about people whose needs are no less valid than those of human beings generally, is a way of contending against the crime [of denying medical transition and gender-affirming health care], a way of affirming publicly how much trans lives matter. In addition to the show’s theatrical merits, that makes Trans Am a major success for Friday and for Keegan.