In a stunning solo performance by Upstate actor Kelly Davis, she takes her audience in The Pink Unicorn on a wallop of an emotional roller coaster ride from her humble existence as a Southern widow and devout Christian, a trip on the Lesbian Underground Railroad, and protesting with the ACLU – aka “a one-on-one with Satan” in her part of Texas.
And all for her 14-year-old daughter Jolene, whose all-black wardrobe only seemed like a rebellious teen-age phase. Until she changes her name to “Jo” and becomes cause célèbre in People magazine and paraded by the aforementioned civil rights group for attempting to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club at school.
Making its Off-Broadway debut last year starring Tony-winner Alice Ripley (Next to Normal), The Pink Unicorn by California playwright and mother Elise Forier Edie sparkles in its South Carolina premiere with this poignant and captivating production by Proud Mary Theatre Company, the state’s only LGBTQ+ theatre troupe.
Directed by legendary The Warehouse Theatre (and Distracted Globe Theatre) Equity actor and educator Anne Tromsness, this fluid staging leaves no stone unearthed, no nuance unexplored, and no moment unfulfilling or neglected.
Davis, in easily one of the top performances of the year, embodies seven other characters, in addition to her working class single mom Trisha. She gently lures the audience into Trisha’s truth – her home, her church and even the principal’s office laid bare except for a big purple jar of violet hand cream.
We are privy in seemingly real time to her intimate, and for her, earth shattering exposure to terms such as “genderqueer,” “LGBTQIA,” and RuPaul’s Drag Race. And in a stroke of comedic genius, Trisha introduces the Gender Spectrum, with Marilyn Monroe at one end, and on the other end (extending her arms to the maximum) Charles Bronson, a name teenagers may have to Google (or whatever new app they use today) to appreciate this legendary bad-ass tough guy. The spectrum and its expanded version later on were hits with the audience, whose reactions gravite between my favorite emotion – laughter through tears – and … more tears.
The play is intricately woven with parallels and metaphors – the titular unicorn is Stardancer, Jolene’s childhood imaginary night-time guardian. And Davis seamlessly pivots as a storyteller from scene to character and back to Trisha in deliberate, radiant strokes of authenticity and charm.
Besides the empathetic and admirable Jolene/Jo, there’s Trisha’s mother (a genteel steel magnolia Southern belle from Atlanta) who wears knock-off designer heels and her sole Hermes scarf bought once at a bargain, and is hellbent on putting an end to this “homosexual bullpuckey.”
Add in the obese closeted lesbian Edith s, two oddball figures from the ACLU, an alcoholic brother Junior, and brandishing a pink Bible and demonizing the “LGBT” is Presbyterian Pastor Dick. Yes, that’s his real name. And Trisha abandons her church, but never her faith.
Davis experiences in minute detail all of the stages of gender-reckoning – denial, guilt, anger, shame, disgust, loss, love, acceptance and affirmation – during this intimate 80-minute play that envelopes you so effortlessly, you are not even aware how immersed you were until the final image of Trisha holding out her hand to the audience.
Not to give away any spoilers, but Mom does come around in the end. My only hope is that this wonderful work is seen by those who need support and relativity this play provides. Moreover, that others (who shall remain nameless) are touched enough to open their hearts and minds to gender diversity.
Jayce Tromsness lays out a pointed and compelling soundscape to The Pink Unicorn with an especially clever Belle reference involving an antique shrimp fork and some Yankees. Longtime Proud Mary stage manager Alyssia Chaplin is back with this production.
The matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 23 @ 3 p.m. is PAY WHAT YOU CAN SUNDAY courtesy of Palmetto State Solar Company in Greenville.
The Pink Unicorn continues Friday-Saturday @ 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Artists Collective Spartanburg, 578 West Main Street in Spartanburg. Tickets are $12-15 and available at the door or proudmarytheatre.com.