Monday, August 2, 2021

Even If We Suck At It

Pivotal moments call us to dig deeper, to draw on inner strength we may not even know we possess.  We throw ourselves into the fire knowing we may get burned. And we would do it over and over again. Because some moments call us to love fiercely. Even if we suck at it.

For Trisha Lee (Marie Lucas) that moment comes when the young, widowed mother is challenged by her daughter, Jolene, in ways that cause Trisha to question everything she knows to be true. Jolene, who sports all black clothing with pink hair, informs her mom that she isn't a girl. At least not all girl. She's also part boy. "Jo" is gender queer - a revelation that will upend everything in Trisha's life. 

Richmond Triangle Players returns to theatre with a sucker punch to the gut with The Pink Unicorn, brilliantly directed by Raja Benz who takes Eliser Forier Edie's play, a masterfully written piece of LGBTQIA activism,  and creates a moving, thought-provoking, hopeful and gorgeous work of art. 

Marie Lucas is breathtaking in her role as the grieving mom who takes on an entire town in order to advocate for her child whose coming out has lasting implications for the small Texas town.

Lucas is funny and poignant with a perfect range of emotion. Every step of the way I was rooting for the courageous mama bear learning how to best love her cub. Anything, including accepting  that the child she knew as a little girl with a pink unicorn, is their own person, with their own truth. 

Confronting the alphabet soup that is the LGBTQIA umbrella is daunting. Trisha vacillates from terrified and angry to bewildered and ultimately curious and accepting. We learn with Trisha as she educates herself in personal pronouns, gender identities, marginalization, advocacy, and humanity. 

                                                                Photo Credit: John MacLellan

Ms. Lucas wears overalls, her hair in braids and tied with a bandana. Around her waist is a tool belt with colored chalk she uses to fill in the chalkboard that provides the three walls of the set.  As she narrates Trisha's story, she creates a mural depicting a small town woman learning the world is just a bit bigger and more colorful than the neat and tidy box she's always known.  

In the end, all that matters is love. It's the bottom line.  In  protecting and loving Jo as fiercely as she can, Trisha takes on her bigoted church, her narrow-minded mother and becomes a reluctant champion of equal rights. Her love is messy. She gets things wrong. She sometimes "sucks" at it. Sometimes it's a snot-nosed, drunken weep fest at the local bar. Other times it is questioning a god who would take her husband, leaving her to navigate uncharted territory alone.

The lights, the sound, the costuming all enhance what is at its core a beautiful story of a woman learning to expand her worldview to see her child as they are.

The Pink Unicorn is a script I wish I'd written. In Benz's extraordinarily talented hands, with Lucas' gripping performance, The Pink Unicorn is one of the best shows I've seen in a very long time, from a theatre that is often known for light-hearted and fun musicals and cabaret fare. This is a serious piece that leaves no doubt that RTP isn't just about getting laughs, that they take seriously their mission to produce "transformational" theatre "rooted in LGBTQ+ experiences, and supporting and celebrating the development of queer artistry."

We are not called to be perfect. We are called to show up, to grow, to rise above our limited worldview. And we are called to love - imperfectly. 

Even if we suck at it.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

They Came Back!

Yep. They came back indeed. 

Socially-distanced, and masked, a respectable crowd of theatre lovers attended VA Rep's first live production since the pandemic dimmed the lights more than a year ago. 

Ella and Her Fella Frank was a fitting choice for VA Rep's return. Light fare, familiar music, and two of the most beloved local actors - Scott Wichmann (Frank Sinatra) and Desiree Roots (Ella Fitzgerald). A dip your toes in the water kind of re-entry. Refreshing, not too deep, and fun. 

This juke box musical was first conceptualized in 1999 by the late Randy Strawderman. With his family in the audience and a dimming of the lights after the show, this memorial performance was a fitting tribute to a man who was an influential part of the Richmond theatre community. 

Written by Bo Wilson, and directed by Katrinah Carol Lewis, Ella and Her Fella Frank imagines the heavenly reunion of real-life friends Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. 

Roots was resplendent as the legendary Fitzgerald, with truly knockout costuming. And Wichmann, long known for his portrayal of Sinatra, was handsome and charming. Every so often he would glance up to the balcony where his wife was sitting. My heart melted. 

Roots and Wichmann sang their hearts out with performances of favorites such as 'Lady and the Tramp,' 'Can't We Be Friends,' 'Cheek to Cheek,' and a scat-tastic "It Don't Mean a Thing.'
Unfortunately, the live band often, and in key moments, drowned out their sound. At times it seemed to be the battle of the saxophones rather than the duets of Ella and Frank. 

It was opening night, so hopefully the sound balance has been worked out. The show really does have the potential to be heavenly. 

The set was impressive. I loved the globe-shaped lights. The musicians were appropriately and safely spaced. Along with the nuanced lighting, we really did get the feel of being in an intimate night club. 

And there were several nods to the pandemic. Roots and Wichmann moved around the stage at an arm's length from each other - socially distanced dancing - and each time they tried to touch, there was an invisible shield that drove them apart. 

Near the end, they were finally able to embrace . . . life beginning to return to normal. 

As she enters the stage, a look of wonder on her face, Roots comments to band leader/pianist Larri Branch "they came back!" 

"Yep," was his signature reply. 

 And we did come back. And it felt momentous. There were more than a few tears. I cried a few of them. 
When Phil Whiteway addressed the audience and welcomed them back after the long hiatus, I got choked up. 

VA Rep's Ella and Her Fella Frank was just the right way to bring back the audience. Congratulations to the entire cast and crew for getting our feet wet after so long out of the water. 

Performances continue through September 12, 2021. For tickets click here.