Off-Broadway Review: “The Pink Unicorn”

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  • David Roberts, Chief New York Critic, Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk

“I am gender queer, Ma. Look it up.” – Jolene Lee to Her Mother Trisha 

The LGBTQ+ communities have undergone significant and healthy upheaval since Elise Forier Edie developed “The Pink Unicorn” in 2011 at The Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Although the playwright has attempted to update the script, its present incarnation currently running at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild falls short of reflecting the rich complexities of gender identity and gender expression, choosing instead a barrage of stereotypes and sometimes offensive diction. This despite an impressive performance by Alice Ripley as a conservative Texas mom who daughter announces she is ‘gender queer.’

When Trisha Lee’s (Alice Ripley) daughter Jolene comes out as gender queer, her announcement shakes Trisha’s world to its core. However, she accepts Jolene’s challenge, and does her homework, depending opon her “research” in Wikipedia to begin her journey to understanding and acceptance. Unconditional and non-judgmental love serve as this devoted mother’s shield and her rear guard as she traverses the bumpy road toward embracing Jolene’s identity and status.

Trisha Decides to seek advice and guidance from her pastor – Pastor Dick. But before she can meet with him, he delivers a homophobic diatribe at Sunday worship concluding that, “We’re not going to let no LGBTQ into this church and we’re not gonna let them lead this church.” In response, Trisha delivers her own “sermon” in the form of a testimony to her daughter Jolene’s right to be gender queer. After making her escape from the church (and her disapproving mother who is in attendance), Trisha is followed by Enid McDonald the “only lesbian [she] knew at the time. Enid here is laden with stereotypes.

This encounter leads to the “planning party for the protest at [Trisha’s] house, with the Gay Straight Alliance brain trust and the Lesbian Underground Railroad in attendance. St. Peter in a sidecar!” The balance of “The Pink Unicorn” chronicles the protest and the aftermath. The audience discovers what victories are won and how they were won and how Jolene and Trisha become “heroes.”

Because the playwright chooses to include a compendium of LGBTQ history, the script becomes didactic and cumbersome. Elise Forier Edie would have been better off allowing Trisha to take center stage and rehearse her journey from naivete to a profound and believable realization that, “The world is a dark place, and we are all dumb and confused in it” and all she has to offer is her hand in solidarity. Alice Ripley is a formidable actor and the audience would benefit from her revealing Trisha’s growth, peeling back the layers of Trisha’s fears, hopes, and dreams as she struggles to place Jolene’s best interests above her doubts and misconceptions.

These misconceptions include two disturbing affirmations. Trisha reveals, “I had to look up LGBTQ.  I did not know it stood for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.” Trisha concludes, “They’re all different, evidently, like Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics.” And her observation that “Gender is on a scale, just like autism, only at one end is Marilyn Monroe, and on the other end is Charles Bronson, and everyone else in the world just lands somewhere in between those two” offends the very heart of all those members of the LGBTQ communities struggling for justice and survival. One needs to accept “The Pink Unicorn” for what it is: the beginning of conversation and not the conclusion of the quest.

THE PINK UNICORN

“The Pink Unicorn” stars Alice Ripley. The production team for “The Pink Unicorn” includes Frank Hartley (production and lighting design), Hunter Dowell (costumes), Carrie Greenberg (wardrobe supervisor), Gaby Garcia (graphic design), Maggie Snyder (general manager), Cara Feuer (assistant general manager) and Ethan Paulini associate artistic director). Theresa S. Carroll serves as production stage manager.

“The Pink Unicorn” runs through Saturday June 2, 2019 at The Episcopal Actors’ Guild (1 East 29th Street between Madison and 5th Avenues). Tickets are $99.00 general admission, $29.50 partial view, or $159.00 for premium ticketing that includes complimentary beverages and reserved seating. For tickets and info visit available at www.ootbtheatrics.com. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Alice Ripley as Trisha Lee in “The Pink Unicorn.” Credit: Jazelle Artistry.