JULY 2023 | Volume 229
Elise Forier Edie's The Pink Unicorn follows Trisha Lee, a Christian single mother in a conservative Texan town. Debuted in 2013, the play centers on Trisha's transformative journey as an advocate for LGBTQIA rights after her child, Jolene (now Jo), comes out as gender queer and pansexual.
The play is written as a one-person show with a single actor portraying all the characters. Director Joelle Wyminga's adaptation keeps this approach while adding a touch more of Jo’s perspective to the narrative. The play starts with Jo discovering their mother's diary among childhood artifacts kept in cardboard boxes. The inclusion of this narrative device is sparse but poignant, particularly when Trisha's words reflecting on her own gender identity, "I had also been a boy once," resonate through Jo's reading of her diary. The choice to feature more of Jo, however subtle, holds special significance with a queer performer leading the play; Shel Wyminga's performance adds an additional layer of depth to the production's exploration of identity and acceptance.
In a tight 90-minute runtime, the focusis on Trisha, whose routine life is suddenly turned upside down. The play unfolds through funny and heartwarming vignettes, highlighting the widowed mother’s courageous efforts and frequent missteps on the path to becoming an unlikely activist.
Perplexity and fear consume the mother when her daughter reveals their gender identity and sexuality.Desperate for answers, Trishaturns to Wikipedia and her Bible. Unsatisfied and further confused with what she finds, she decides to seek guidance from her pastor, but her plans are foiled when the pastor delivers a vehement anti-gay speech during service, leaving her affiliation with the church (though not her faith) in turmoil. Matters escalate when Jo and their friends attempt to create a gay-straight alliance, which generates controversy and resistance from the school.
Despite her initial confusion, Trisha's unwavering love for Jo propels her to take a stand against the school's and the town’s open repression. Supported by an unlikely ally, Enid McDonald, a lesbian woman from the congregation, Trisha becomes an imperfect but fearless advocate.Shel Wyminga delivers a convincingly energetic performance, taking on disparate characters, including the pastor and school principal as well as Trisha’s judgmental mother and alcoholic older brother.
The script has moments of emotionally impactful and charming wit that are bolstered by the performance. Trisha denounces the judgment from her congregation, describing "the word of Jesus dribbling out their mouths like juice from a peach.” Enid beautifully expresses that being loved by queer women makes her feel "seen as a child of God." At times, however, the play relies too heavily on Trisha’s crude nature. The central character fits a bit too neatly into the stereotype of a Southern woman, the lovable scrappiness of a Sally Field in Norma Rae or the biting sassiness of Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias, and it loses a bit of its dimensionality with some one-liners, like jokes about Enid’s weight, being repeated too many times.
Still, Far From the Tree Productions' adaptation is thoughtfully calibrated. Trisha's quirky journey to social consciousness is infused with some groundedness. The production avoids visual stereotypes, maintaining Jo's original look throughout – a black tank-top, button-down shirt, slacks, and sneakers. The similarly understated design allows for swift set changes, using boxes as church pews and home furniture, and creating opportunities for intimate engagement with the audience. The play’s big moments – like a conversation about faith between Trisha and Jo - effortlessly convey sincerity.
Wyminga’s performance captures a vulnerability that carefully balances levity with a compelling sense of spirituality and emotional depth. The Pink Unicorn gains strength from adown-to-earth and personal approach, bringing nuance to its profoundly pertinent and timely subject matter.
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