I loved The Pink Unicorn. I loved its narrator Trisha (Louise Lambert), a widowed mother in a small Texas town. And I loved seeing how I misjudged Trisha, first seeing her tailored floral outfit, big hair, and fussy mannerisms and hearing her Texas accent, and assuming that she would be overly concerned with appearances, tradition, and approval of authority.
I was wrong! The more I got to know about Trisha, the more I respected her and enjoyed listening to her. Because not only did she start out with a more complex background, she grew and changed over the course of the events she recounts, starting when her daughter Jolene tells her that she wants to start high school as Jo, a person without gender, genderqueer and pansexual. The playwright Elise Forier Edie has been very clever in creating a protagonist who is uninformed to start with but eager to learn about concepts of gender in order to understand her child. So Trisha reports that she began to research on Wikipedia, and at first you can hear the air quotes around every phrase that comes out of her mouth, “androgyne” “LGBTQ” and “gender continuum”. At first she doesn’t see the point of it, just gamely goes on with supporting Jo because she’s always wanted her to be able to be herself. The audience can feel a little superior because Trisha is bewildered, but the script gives the audience lots of information along the way and brings everyone up to speed on vocabulary and concepts. And sometimes this is very funny. Her description of the gender continuum first has Charles Bronson at one end and Marilyn Monroe at the other, herself close to the Marilyn end and Jo somewhere in the middle, but when she explains it to someone else later in the story, she starts at the hypermasculine end with Charles Bronson, then she adds Clint Eastwood, then Hilary Clinton, then a big gap before Brad Pitt.
The performance has Trisha aware of an audience, telling the story to outsiders like us and addressing us directly. Her occasional bad language and vulgarity is startling and delightful, because we know that she doesn’t usually use it to other people. And when she expresses some unkind thoughts and reveals prejudices, it matters. She knows she shouldn’t be saying mean things about fat people, lesbians, or disabled people, and she isn’t doing it to get a laugh – she just needs to admit those thoughts because her mis-judgements matter to the story.
As Jo and her friends encounter resistance to forming a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, Trisha finds herself drawn into their fight and discovers unexpected allies of her own. I especially loved the matter-of-fact part about her alcoholic brother – the script had no glib attempt to explain his alcoholism and bad choices with past-trauma tropes, and Trisha discovers that he can still offer her meaningful support despite his sickness. Trisha’s Biblical interpretations and Jo’s speeches about freedom and diversity are useful background for anyone who needs to argue in support of Gay-Straight Alliances or other support for diverse genders and sexualities.
Trevor Schmidt directed the play and is also credited with designing the playful pink and peach set and costume. In the show I attended, the performer had the best line-prompt call I’ve ever seen, staying completely in character and improvising a reaction to the prompt that had the audience laughing and on her side.
The Pink Unicorn is playing until February 28th at the PCL Studio at the Arts Barns. It is an impressive solo performance of a good script, it is a story of contemporary queer lives that has a happy ending, it is a celebration of family love and personal growth that are not in contradiction, it is enjoyable for people who are familiar with LGBTQ issues and those who are not, and it is a valuable discussion-starter that has had me thinking ever since. Tickets are through Fringe Theatre Adventures. If you live far enough from Edmonton that you can’t see this show and you wish you could, you can buy an electronic copy of the script here. You can arrange performance rights through the author, whose contact information is on the same publisher’s page.