Last February Claire Avitabile, artistic director of 20% Theatre, approached actress Mykel Pennington, and asked her if she had ever thought about doing a one-woman show.
“I said, 'I would never write one but I would be in one,'” Pennington recalls. This weekend that play, The Pink Unicorn by Elise Forier Edie, opens in what is Pennington’s first stab at a solo show. It's been unlike any other acting experience she’s had before.
In The Pink Unicorn, Pennington plays a small-town Christian woman named Trisha Lee. When her daughter comes out as gender queer — in other words, she doesn’t identify with either of the binary genders — Pennington’s character has to grapple with all kinds of emotions. Things get even more complicated when the Gay/Straight Alliance that her daughter wants to start at her school gets rejected, so she has to resolve her own prejudices while supporting her daughter.
“I think the show is really valuable for young people to see,” Pennington says. “Especially for preteen and high school kids. Maybe they know someone who is dealing with these issues.”
As a mother of two girls, one 12 and one 14, the latter who is the age of her character’s child in the play, “I totally related to it,” she says. “I’m relating to being a parent and wanting to make the right choice, questioning and doubting the decisions I’ve made as a parent, and wanting to love my children for whoever they actually become.”
When another parent, who was considering taking her child to see the show, asked her if it was sexually explicit, Pennington responded that it wasn’t at all, except that her character talks about genitals in a very matter-of-fact way. “It’s all about gender identity and not sexual identity, and how both are so completely different,” she says.
This is the seventh production Pennington will have worked on with 20%, whose whose mission is to promote the work of women and transgender artists.
She began working with the company in 2007, when she first moved to Minneapolis. She went to the Twin Cities Unified Auditions, a mass audition where a number of theaters are in attendance, and was cast in a show Avitabile directed called Hot ‘N Throbbing.
Through 20%, Pennington has worked closely with the queer community, especially through its annual Naked I showcase, which highlights the voices and experiences of trans, queer, otherwise non-cisgender, and non-heterosexual folks.
“After working on [The Naked I], I have some very close friends that are either transgender or gender queer that I consider chosen family,” she says. “It’s been a really exciting thing — to be able to have this journey in terms of the friendships I’ve created in my life with people who identify as gender queer or transgender.”
Performing in a one-woman show is like running a marathon. "[For the last six months], it’s the only thing I’ve been doing,” she says, adding that she gets up at five in the morning to run lines before going to work. “You do a little bit every day, and ultimately you train yourself to do the whole play.”
“It’s a really strange process,” she says of being the only one onstage. “When you are in a show with other people, sometimes you can run lines with them, but when it’s just you it’s not dialogue, it’s all monologue. There’s nobody to run lines with and I’m the one with all the cues.”
IF YOU GO:
7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, September 3-5
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis