Story-Living in “Memoirs of a…Unicorn”
What is the weight of magic?
Marjani Forté-Saunders sits atop a pyramid, her head swallowed by a cone of chicken wire longer than the line of her body. So begins her mercurial “Memoirs of a…Unicorn.” She slowly, awkwardly descends from her perch. The weight and size of this unicorn’s horn confining her movement.
When angels descended on the Son of Man did it hurt to leave their heavenly abundance? When Olympians metamorphosed to play-act as mortals was some of their power left on that mountain? When Glinda the Good Witch’s bubble pops in front of Dorothy does she maybe, for a second, think, “Oh, this again?”
In “Memoirs of a…Unicorn,” Forté-Saunders blends allegory, pop culture and the mundane to create a meta-narrative in a form both chopped and screwed and tightly woven. After her descent another follows. Richard Forté, her father, walks down the raked seating to the stage telling the story of Princess Ziru and the Unicorn. A tale of a girl’s dealmaking and sacrifice to use magic to save the ones she loves.
The stage of “Memoirs” is tactile and virtual. In addition to the pyramid, there is a garden of dildos and a hanging rope sculpture evocative of macrame wall hangings–but it can swallow you. Projections are specifically rendered on the pyramid or bleeding across the stage space. Forté-Saunders anchors it all.
Watching her perform, I found myself thinking there should be a term like method acting but for dance: Method Dancing? Because Forté-Saunders inhabits and lives in the moments, the archetypes, the characters to such a degree that it doesn’t feel like watching performance. She is deeply in control of her instrument and a conduit for the shifting energies of live art. Whether she is the Mother, the Observer, the Scientist, the Warrior, it is her and it is not her.
At one point she lies on the floor letting out yowls you feel in your gut. Her voice and body writhe before snapping into a dialogue between mother and daughter, only to release into more yowls. It is like witnessing the wet space Beloved awoke to before finding Sethe. Later, she invites her father back on stage to dance with her. Their groove is ineluctable; I looked around to see the audience leaning forward, smiling.
In an ending I won’t spoil, Forté-Saunders topples the trope of the magical negro. The magic explored or created in this show is not a chapter in a (usually) white protagonist’s narrative where (usually) he descends to a boiler room, jail cell, or generally debased location, to take knowledge for the benefit of his own becoming.
“Memoirs of a…Unicorn” is its own narrative.