Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's recent review of Little Shop of Horrors
Mykel Pennington plays Trisha, the only character on stage, as she did for 20% Theater's first mounting of The Pink Unicorn in 2015, and it is easy to believe that Pennington really knows this woman. Trisha is a widow of ten years who lives in a small, conservative Texas town. She works as a cleaner in the local hospital, the only real job she has ever held. Fourteen-year-old Joleen has pushed Trisha's tolerance with a short spiky haircut and a totally black back-to school wardrobe (trying to be generous in her judgement, Trisha describes the black leather jacket from Goodwill as "having a lot of zippers all over, kind of different but still, y' know, cute"), but Joleen's (now to be called Jo) gender queer identity is beyond comprehension, driving Trisha to Wikipedia for enlightenment. Trisha's education starts with the notion that gender is a continuum: Charles Bronson on one end and Marilyn Monroe on the other, with most of us are somewhere in between. She is also startled to learn that gender lives not in one's body parts, but in one's mind.
Jo's healthy and forthright expression of her identity makes the situation that much harder for Trisha to contend with. She must deal with Jo's activism at school, including her efforts to start a gay-straight alliance club and a cross-dressing protest against yearbook photos; with vehemently homophobic pronouncements from her minister, Pastor Dick; being shunned by neighbors; and the scorn of her mother, a sharp-clawed Atlanta-born Southern belle. She is befriended by the morbidly obese Enid Montgomery who, to Trisha's amazement, comes out to her as a lesbian, and gets involved with the ACLU, legal action, and a protest movement.
Trisha also is forced to reevaluate her feelings toward her ne'erdowell, alcoholic brother Juniorthe big brother she adored as a child, but who now seems to her a dismal and insensitive failure. Not only that, but her constant worries about Earl, her dear, late husband not having been a Christian, and all that means for his life in the hereafter, contribute to the burdened state of her heart and mind. Everything feels, to Trisha, to have gotten way out of control, when all she wanted was to keep loving a daughter she could not understand, but could not bear to lose.
We do get to know the other characters who figure in the story: Jo, Trisha's mother, Junior, Enid, Pastor Dick, Jo's gay friend Elijah Breckenridge, and the high school principal, Cyril Makepeace. However, Mykel Pennington never plays any of those characters. She is always Trisha, and it is through Trisha's eyes and voice that we see and hear the others, as she describes them and mimics their gestural and vocal affectations. This creates a sense of being Trisha's constant companion on her journey, knowing that everything else is filtered by her hopes, prejudices and demons.
Mykel Pennington completely captures the attention of the audience, immediately creating a fully believable character which she sustains without pause for the play's 90 minutes. She is a master of facial expressions, curled lips, and vocal inflections, and makes the most of the few props and very simple set. She has great delivery of the many funny lines in the play, while revealing the fractured feelings Trisha's dry wit aims to conceal. She is greatly helped by Edie's observant dialog, so completely true to life, such as Trisha's wondering if, within their small, homogeneous town, there isn't an "underground network of gays, lesbians and bi what-nots," or when she comes to understand how gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer are all different by way of comparison to how Hispanic, Chicano and Latino are all supposed to be different.
Meghan Gunderson has directed the play seamlessly, leaving no gap in which we might lose interest in Trisha's story. Trisha's simple costume, a denim midi-length skirt and a coral peasant-style blouse, suit her perfectly. Courtney Schmitz's lighting design distinguishes between moments when Trisha is alone with her spoken-aloud thoughts, and when she is interacting with Jo, her mom, Enid, or the others.
The Pink Unicorn plays only one more weekend, in the intimate Open Eye Figure Theatre, meaning not many seats. Anyone who has faced a challenge to the way they thought the world was organized, who has had to reconsider what is real and what matters to them, or has watched a loved one go through that ordeal, will understand, and root for, and care deeply about Trisha. Let's hope this is not the last return visit from this smart and beautifully realized play.
The Pink Unicorn , presented by 20% Theatre Company, continues at Open Eye Figure Theatre through February 5, 2017, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis. Tickets are $5.00 to $25.00 on a sliding scale. For tickets or information go to tctwentypercent.org or call 612-874-6338.
Writer: Elise Forier Edie; Director: Meghan Gunderson; Costume Design: Molly Stoke; Light Design: Courtney Schmitz; Accent Coach: Keely Wolter; Stage Manager: Devin Taylor; Producer: Claire Avitabile.
Cast: Mykel Pennington (Trisha)