Trans Am
Lisa Stephen Friday in Trans Am; Credit: Cameron Whitman

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Lisa Stephen Friday spent years slamming her electric guitar and singing into a blasting microphone as the frontwoman of Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday, the DIY glam rock band she founded with friends in early 2000s New York. Now, Friday swaps the electric for an acoustic, and is taking the stage, alone, for the live premiere of her one-woman show, Trans Am, at Dupont Circle’s Keegan Theatre.

The autobiographical solo production—Friday’s first theatrical creation—had a virtual run in 2020 and tells the story of Friday’s life: from growing up in Georgia as a little “boy” who dreamt of wearing Mom’s skirts; to coming into her identity as a woman, as a rock and roller, and as the leader of a cult favorite band; to falling madly in love, stumbling out of it, and eventually landing on two feet. Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday songs score the show, and Friday renders them with only the assistance of her acoustic guitar and vibrant voice.

Donning a tight denim jumpsuit, cherry red high-tops, and a modern blonde bob, Friday oozes charisma from the moment she steps on stage. She speaks to her audience casually and directly, making you feel like you’re a close friend sitting at her kitchen counter, listening to her talk while she puts a kettle on the stove for tea. Friday weaves together fond memories that might make you laugh, intimate anecdotes that will probably make you blush, and harrowing stories that are capable of forcing tears out of the corners of your eyes. She often pairs her monologues with casual guitar strumming, easing her way into musical performances that she builds from a sweet falsetto to a booming belt.

Fred Berman, who played drums for Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday, directs Trans Am. The pair’s creative chemistry translates successfully from music to theater—Friday navigates the stage naturally and energetically over the show’s 90-minute run. A gorgeous set, designed by Matthew J. Keenan, features hanging television screens (reminiscent of Nam June Paik’s iconic “Electronic Superhighway” installation at the National Portrait Gallery), which buzz alive with MTV-style images that add color to Friday’s anecdotes. Posters of ’90s and 2000s bands are plastered on the walls of the small theater, immersing the audience further into Friday’s world.

For much of Trans Am, Friday inhabits an overlapping space between her own world and the world around her. It’s the show’s sweet spot. Her stories about transitioning and coming out to friends, family, and lovers are personal, but they also tell the story of a homophobic, transphobic society that queer—and specifically trans—people are all too familiar with. When Friday chronicles the rise of Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday, she vividly transports her audience into a janitor’s closet that doubles as a dressing room, and other fixtures of the early aughts queer, independent rock scene. In her funniest bit, Friday introduces the audience to Jayne County—a fellow trans rocker and performer who became a mentor to Friday—by lowering her body into a squatted strut, and her voice into a charming drawl.

As the show nears its end, however, the Venn diagram of personal and collective experience separates into two circles. Friday strays away from the world around her as she turns inward—into her struggle with alcoholism, the dramatic breakup of Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday, and a failed marriage—and she never fully finds her way back. It makes for a final half hour that doesn’t quite live up to the hour that precedes it, and an ending that doesn’t quite feel satisfactory.

But that may be because in real life, Friday’s story is far from over. It takes time to nurture perspective, and to draw satisfying conclusions from our own trials and tribulations. If anything, Trans Am is the work of someone who is just beginning to realize her creative potential. It is a story about transition—gender transition, sure, but also the transitions we all undergo as we age, evolve, fall flat on our faces, and get back up again, a little bit stronger each time. Like the rest of us, Friday will continue to transition, and it would be wise to pay close attention to whatever she becomes next. For now, being the writer and star of an exciting, moving, and unique production is working out pretty well.

Trans Am, directed by Fred Berman and written by Lisa Stephen Friday, plays at Keegan Theatre through Feb. 26. $55–$65.