I went to see Magic Unicorn Island on the recommendation of literally almost every acquaintance I ran into at the Ottawa Fringe beer tent (now at the SAW Gallery). Admittedly its preview had not particularly inspired me, however, my fellow critic Wes Babcock assured me that the show is nonetheless worth it- the preview material, out of context, hardly doing Jayson McDonald’s poignant comedy any justice. Lo and behold, this show definitely lives up the hype it’s been getting and is a top pick for all of us here at the New Ottawa Critics.
A dark comment on the future of the human race, McDonald single-handedly takes his audiences through the creation of the Earth to its very destruction using nothing more than some excellent character work and a few props. In an attempt to protest the cruelty and greed in the adult run Empire, the children of the world decide to run their own country. Touching yet incredibly biting in its underlying social commentary, Magic Unicorn Island explores the futility of fighting for world peace.
For me, one of the elements I find to be most compelling in this show is its handling of the idea that oppression and prejudice are part of a destructive cycle that is continually perpetuated by the passing down of these behaviours and thoughts by parents to their offspring. When 14 year old Shane Rivera and the rest of the children in the world decide to defect to their own island in a state of protest, he addresses the newfound country with an impassioned speech about how children have to spend a lot of their lives “unlearning” all the cruddy misconceptions their parent(s) hand down to them. We are then later introduced to Shane’s father (a.k.a. “Me”) who is, by all accounts, everything that’s wrong with the world (quite literally stated even). Easily one of the best lines in the play is delivered by this character “Me” who remains “willfully ignorant” and believes that his “misery deserves company”; not to mention the line about the patriarchy being nothing more than a “calcified monstrosity choking on its own impotent rage.” ZING! However, where we see that Shane differs completely from his father is in the moment where Shane corrects his learned behaviour (i.e. getting mad and yelling at a soldier for crying and showing emotion) and transcends to a level of tolerance and empathy by realizing his mistake, apologizing, and righting the situation. The comment McDonald makes here, I think, is that everyone has the ability to overcome negative thoughts, stereotypes, and behaviour- but it is a conscious effort.
The second thing that really struck me about this play is the ultimate realization you come to post-performance. The entire piece kind of revolves around the idea that the children of Magic Unicorn Island, especially Shane, don’t believe the adults will actually bomb their own children- their hope for a better future in their innocence outweighs the reality of the situation (i.e. it’s weighing against the fact that there has literally never been a period in time where there hasn’t been a conflict due to self-interest and greed over resources). We, the audience, at the piece’s culmination sit there shocked at the idea that anyone would willfully bomb an island full of children- yet, there are many youth who currently live in war zones or war torn nations: Myanmar, Syria, and Yemen for example. It is likely that most of the viewers will probably leave the theatre wondering how the adults in the play could do something so horrific, but really we should be asking ourselves: how are these things still happening to our children?
Finally, to touch on very briefly as I mentioned it earlier on, the character work in this solo show is fantastic. McDonald is a master at fleshing out different and memorable characters even if they are on stage for a short while. The press secretary and the southern war vet, for example, are both distinct and very humorous despite each being in only one scene. Our protagonist, Shane, is portrayed with an incredible amount of empathy and compassion so you can’t help but root along with the runaways and their non-violent protest. Finally, the entire beginning number where McDonald, as God, creates the universe using physical gestures and sound is a testament to this actor’s skill outside of telling stories through exposition.
Ultimately, you should take just about everyone’s word for it and check out Jayson McDonald’s Magic Unicorn Island. A finely wrought dark-comedy that questions the fate of the humanity, this show will leave you feeling haunted. Bravo!