By Kia Standard
According to Wikipedia, the unicorn is a wild creature, a symbol of purity and grace. Its horn has the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal the sick. Throughout the ages, this symbol has been called a variety of names by a variety of cultures. No one disputes the magical properties of this mythical beast. But everyone’s definition of magic tends to be different.
When Trisha Lee’s daughter comes home one day and announces that she is gender‑queer, the conservative Texas widow isn’t quite sure what the term means, so she consults Wikipedia. Her fourteen‑year‑old daughter has chopped off all of her hair at Super Cuts, decided to start wearing all black clothing, and would like to be addressed as Jo instead of her birth name Jolene. Also, Jo no longer wants to identify as she, or he for that matter; “they” will be the correct pronoun. Most importantly, Jo wants to attend high school as a gender‑neutral person. “Oh, shit!” What is happening to Trisha’s beloved daughter, the one who has a toy unicorn named Stardancer, and a pet tarantula named Beetlejuice? There are many other questions Trisha wishes she could consult Wikipedia about regarding her daughter’s sudden transformation, but she decides to do what all good Christians from her small town of Sparkton, Texas, tend to do during a time of personal crisis: consult their local pastor.
The following Sunday, when Trisha tries to work up the nerve to ask her clergyman for advice, her attempt to seek counsel proves ill‑timed. In his sermon, Pastor Dick denounces the hiring of gay clergymen to the church and compares the LGBTQ community and their supporters to Nazi sympathizers who brought about the Holocaust. Trisha becomes flustered by his outrageous statements, has a sudden outburst, and exits the church quite unceremoniously. She runs aimlessly, until she stops in an open field and “finds God under an Indian‑summer sky.” From this pivotal moment on, Trisha seeks help in unlikely places as she navigates the complexities of her daughter’s newly claimed identity, while trying to reclaim her own self‑awareness.
Alice Ripley is an adept storyteller; she plays Trisha with quiet grace and vulnerability. Her performance feels like personal testimony as she speaks directly to the audience of the intimate forty‑seat theater at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild. Even though Ms. Ripley is known for playing complex, larger‑than‑life characters—Janet in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” conjoined twin Violet Hilton in “Side Show,” and Diana Goodman in “Next to Normal,” the role for which she won the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical—her connection to this character feels even more symbiotic. Ms. Ripley disarms the audience with her conversational tone and Texas‑ish accent, care of dialect coach Rena Cook. Her wit and intelligence are also charming; there were times when I felt as though I were having coffee or wine in Trisha Lee’s living room.
The real triumphant protagonist of this tale is the unseen Jo, who pushes the entire system of the fictional town of Sparkton, Texas, out of its formidable comfort zone. Jo tries to found a Gay and Straight Alliance at the high school, but is denied this right by Cyril Makepeace, the high school principal. The teenager then stages a protest against the traditional dress code for school picture day. Usually, the male students wear a blazer, while the female students wear a dickey for the annual photo shoot. Jo decides to wear a blazer and encourages friends to dress outside of the school norm. The students who participate in the protest are expelled. After the incident, Trisha stands up for her child and tries to reason with Principal Makepeace. When her attempts fall on deaf ears, she gets her new lesbian friends involved, as well as the ACLU, and even People Magazine. As Trisha rises up against the obstacles thrown at her, she realizes that Pastor Dick and Principal Makepeace may not be the only ones with misconceived judgments and biases. Perhaps Trisha Lee has a few personal biases of her own.
“The Pink Unicorn” is beautifully written by Elise Forier Edie, who played the role of Trisha Lee in previous productions of the show. Although the story and characters are fictional, the play is a composite of real‑life events involving transgender children, and the challenges they face when they attempt to freely express their identities. Edie is well‑aware of the ignorance, bias, and intolerance that a transgender child experiences on a day‑to‑day basis, because she has raised a transgender child. “I really did watch them go to school with my heart in my mouth,” she said. “I have felt that same fear every day of my life since.” To call “The Pink Unicorn” an everyperson’s tale would be oversimplifying this relevant work; however, any parent or family member who has supported their child or loved one against the red tape of a closed‑minded societal institution can certainly relate. The true unconditional love of a parent involves hard work, perseverance, and standing up for a child even when you don’t always understand their journey. Trisha Lee says that her love for Jo is her own pink unicorn. Hopefully, in our lifetimes, we will all be lucky enough to find such magic.
“The Pink Unicorn”
Performed by Alice Ripley
Written by Elise Forier Edie (Best Storyteller at the 2013 United Solo Theatre Festival, NYC)
Directed by Amy E. Jones
May 15 – June 2, 2019
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
The Episcopal Actors’ Guild
1 East 29th Street
New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.