Review: “Pass/Fail” at the Trans Theatre Festival

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Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

If there’s anything that should be apparent to most theatergoers by now, it is the fact that bigotry is alive and well in the United States. Despite the progress made for LGBTQ rights over the past decade, it’s clear that there’s still more that needs to be done, to ensure that everyone in our society is treated fairly and equally. That is especially true, when it comes to people who are transgender, and as Sandy Gooen’s poignant new play Pass/Fail points out, not even places such as theatre or music classes are guaranteed as spaces where people can fully express who they are.

The play – inspired by true events and the writer’s personal experiences – tells the story of Johnny, a transgender college student who is struggling with the natural forms of soft discrimination that transgender students often face in schools, with the main example having to do with the struggles of dealing with a transphobic teacher in Johnny’s music class, which ultimately leads to Johnny trying to determine how to best open up about himself and his struggles. As I watched the story unfold, it was clear to me just how personal much of this story was to the playwright, and I admire him for portraying this reality he faced in such a raw and unapologetic way. At the same time, this strikes me as a wonderfully written example of what it may be like to be a young transgender person in modern day America, in general, and will not only be relatable – in all likelihood – to those who have been through similar events, but also help provide further insight for those of us who might not have had such experiences.

Under the direction of Donnie Cianciotto, the cast does a wonderful job at bringing these characters to life. Syd Ronis stands out in the role of Johnny, displaying a certain level of both charm and sensitivity that make the character both endearing and sympathetic – and I’m sure in some cases, relatable – to audiences. Other highlights include Marc David Wright, who perfectly portrays the role of Johnny’s best friend Noah, as well as Rebecca Cianciotto, who delivers a memorable performance as the bigoted music teacher Carina. Rounding out this talented cast is Hannah Roze (Sari), Jonathan Hernandez (Will), Emily McNally (Michelle/Waitress), Emily Mervosh (Lucy/Photography Student), Jacob Michael (Dan), and Jane Marie Price (Brynn).

While it’s been quite a few years now since I’ve been in a classroom setting, such as the one in this play, it did get me thinking seriously about how much cultural progress has REALLY been made, in terms of equality and justice for transgender people – particularly transgender youth – and what more can be done to support people like Johnny, who struggles more than many others do to fit in and feel welcome in society. Add the fact that the characters are all brought to life by superb actors, and you have a very thought-provoking production, one which I hope we haven’t seen the last of. While this play may have ended its run at the Trans Theatre Festival, I do hope that it will return, in some form or another, for more theatergoers to see, but in any case, I most certainly hope to see more work from this playwright, in the future…

“Pass/Fail” ended its run at The Brick as part of the Trans Theatre Festival on July 21st.