When her daughter comes out as gender queer, Trisha Lee’s whole world is turned upside down in the Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Pink Unicorn,” opening this weekend at the Robert B. Moss Theatre.
“There's a lack of understanding and anytime a person doesn't understand something, you know, they automatically have all of these walls up,” explains actress Marie Lucas, who plays Lee in this production.
The play is based in part on the experience of playwright Elsie Forier Edie, whose personal struggles with her child’s gender identity inform those of the main character, a widow and mother from a small Texas town. Lucas says Lee’s journey is one of acceptance, of learning how to truly support her child who also wants to start a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance at their small-town high school.
“Trisha Lee is thinking she’s loving her child the right way all of these years,” Lucas says, “and then suddenly, she really needs to rethink the way that she loves her child.”
Director Raja Benz says the script, a solo piece in which an actress addresses the audience to tell her story, runs the risk of coming across “like she’s just monologuing at you.”
“I didn’t want it to be this thing where the audience gets talked at for 90 minutes,” Benz says. “But most importantly, what stood out to me is that this was a story about transgender people that didn’t have transgender people onstage.”
As a transgender theater artist in Richmond, Benz says its important for her “to ensure that voice is as prominent in this piece as possible.”
“I am definitely a bit of an expressionist, in that I make theater that happens in a room that acknowledges that it’s happening live. I’m always thinking, ‘How can I tell this story with more than one sense, with all my senses?’ And challenging what it means to tell the story.”
Audiences can expect to see Benz and Lucas pushing the boundaries of storytelling in multiple ways and using theatrical elements, specifically calling on expressionist techniques to expand the scope of the story as it reads on the page. Lucas says the best part of her job is getting to step in and out of multiple characters.
“As an actor, it’s been really great to get to dip my toes into other characters that are so different from Trisha Lee,” Lucas explains. “It kind of goes in with the theme of gender fluidity, when you get to play men. I get to play boys, like I get to play a tomboy that I used to be when I was a child. Things like that have come up.”
While embodying Trisha Lee, Lucas finds herself reflecting on something Tawnya Pettiford-Wates used to say back when she was a Virginia Commonwealth University theater student: “The story is more important than you.”
“That has really resonated for me with this play,” Lucas says. “This story is so beautiful and so important. I cry every time we run through the show.”
In spite of what might sound like criticism of the script, Benz says she has the utmost respect for this story and for this playwright.
“I don’t know if I’m critical of the piece per se. I just have a lot to add to this conversation, as somebody who has lived experience in this area,” Benz says. “And that's the thing that I think goes missing when we write trans stories without trans characters being present: We miss out on that perspective.”
Richmond Triangle Players’ “The Pink Unicorn” runs from July 30 through Aug. 15 at the Robert B. Moss Theatre. Tickets cost $10 - $30. rtriangle.org.