Review: Unicorn With a Cape

Unicorn With a Cape

Returning to Dublin for one night only, ‘Unicorn With a Cape’ explores what it means to live without gender, and is unmissable, says Brian Finnegan.


Dublin’s Clanbrassil Street bizarrely feels a little like The East Village in New York tonight. I’m sitting in the Fumbally Café, surrounded by all sorts of people, young, middle-aged, gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, trans, and in between. I’m drinking chamomile tea, waiting to see a one-man show. Or is it a one-woman show? Or is it either of these things? Or neither of these things? I’m not sure what to expect.

Unicorn With A Cape began its life three years ago in the small Canadian town of Renfrew, where Marcus Magdalena was recovering from years of alchohol abuse, living a quiet life with his sister away from the emotional tumult of Toronto. (While I’m using the pronoun ‘his’ right now, I’m liable to switch to ‘her’ every now and then, and then back again. That’s because Marcus identifies as genderless, and she is more comfortable with more than one pronoun to describe who she is.)

Marcus, sober and wanting to do something of meaning, decided to put on a play that might educate people about what it was like to live outside the gender box, to be none of the things that society sets you up to be. Since then, the play has been performed both in Canada and Ireland, and in its development a new cast member has been added.

A woman with flame red hair, tied in a bun, and glasses, takes to the stage. This is Marcus’ partner in life, the dancer Tara Brandell, here to introduce the show with a lighthearted talk about gender identity that includes some audience participation, in which we’re given playing cards to help challenge our own gender constructs.

Then she introduces Marcus. A hush descends and from the back of the room he appears, caped and horned, smiling and saying hello to us all, touching some of us as he passes by on his way to the stage.

And then my expectations, confused as they were, get blown asunder. From the moment Marcus opens her mouth to speak, I become lost in her story. Girl, boy, woman, man, gay, straight, lesbian, lonely, confused, abused, held, disabused, battered, laughed with, danced with,  desiring, desired, hated, loved. The young woman sitting to my left sighs every now and then, deeply. She’s lost in Marcus too.

Marcus tells his story with passion and truth. The ethos is DIY. It’s not scripted. There’s hesitation. Worry. Should he be sharing this with us? Is it too much? There’s a sense of urgency. He desperately needs us to understand. Needs the world to understand.

I interviewed Marcus for GCN last year, and tried to represent her as best I could, but I didn’t really understand what genderless meant. Like everyone, I grew up in a world where male and female are binary constructs, where gender is separate and defined in so many obvious, and not so obvious ways, so of course it’s hard to truly understand what it might mean to be both a man and a woman, and to be neither man nor woman at the same time, or to be somewhere in between.

At the heart of this show is true understanding. There is a moment when Marcus talks about reaching out to another human being, beyond his body, beyond feelings about the body, beyond the narrow confines of gender, reaching out to touch and be touched, and I find myself crying. The woman beside me is crying too. She is genderless. I am genderless. Everyone in the room is genderless. Humanity is genderless.

This might sound like a complicated notion, but in the moment of understanding, it seems like a very simple equation. This might be because of Marcus’ bravery, his willingness to be vulnerable and exposed in order for us to understand, allowing us to empathise, to feel along with the inside of him. But it also may be the appearance of a unicorn in our midst, a magical thing, speaking to the heart of truth and beauty.

At the end of the show, Tara and Marcus dance. It is a dance of true acceptance and love. Tara is showing Marcus that she is loved just as she is. Tara holds Marcus and the audience bursts into joyful applause.

In his play, Sweet Bird of Youth, Tennessee Williams wrote: “I don’t ask for your pity, but just for your understanding—not even that—no. Just for your recognition of me in you.”

This is essentially the message at the heart of Unicorn With a Cape. The best kind of theatre is the kind that makes you feel that something within you has changed for the better through witnessing it. This show is that kind of theatre. Don’t miss it.

 Unicorn With a Cape is presented in association with TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) at Smock Alley Theatre on Friday, March 21 at 8pm. Tickets €10/6, booking here.



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