The actor's the thing in the play "The Pink Unicorn."
Elise Forier Edie's one-person comedy is a decent one. Kate Guentzel plays Trisha Lee, a single mom in Texas whose child, Jolene, recently came out as gender-nonbinary, changing their name to Joe.
That revelation leads to Trisha reconsidering many of her relationships in a series of vignettes that include a potent scene in which Trisha, struggling for understanding, recalls a moment from her youth when she didn't feel limited by gender. Maybe, the scene seems to suggest, all of us are gender-nonbinary to a degree.
A play that consists of one actor and a few pieces of furniture could feel static, but Michael Robins' staging is fluid and natural. And the understated design is a good choice. It would be easy to see "Texas" in the script and immediately go to "big hair" and "pink, knockoff Chanel suit" for Trisha. Instead, designer Barb Portinga opts for the chinos and shirt worn by many busy women with good taste.
My issues with the play mostly have to do with its tentativeness, since it seems designed for the audience to congratulate itself for being woke, and also its sloppiness. For instance, the set suggests that we are in Trisha's living room, but why? Guentzel's relationship with the audience has an ease and directness that is just about ideal but, as Trisha addresses us about events from her recent past, it's not clear whom we're supposed to be: Her book club? Jaycees?
A little information along those lines would be helpful in understanding the tone of her talk, which skips past some of what must have been a painful process of understanding. As Trisha offers impersonations of her child, her pastor, her mother and a member of her congregation, "The Pink Unicorn" shifts at time from being a sort of confessional to something like Lily Tomlin's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." Is Trisha a stand-up comedian or a mother on a mission?
For sure, Guentzel is an actor on a mission. Her Trisha may have some outdated ideas and may say some awful things about the people who get in her way, but Guentzel makes sure her humanity always shines through, in the big moments when she's confronting church bigotry and the tiny, rueful ones when she's reminiscing about "my baby."
Regardless of Trisha's confusion about what it means that her child is neither a boy nor a girl, Trisha's default is that she loves her child and will do whatever is in her power to support them. Guentzel's generous impersonation of Joe drolly suggests that adolescent disdain will trump gender anytime, while subtly underscoring that the biggest challenges ahead are not Trisha's but Joe's.